November 10, 1997

Cost-effectiveness of Noninvasive Diagnostic Aids in Suspected Pulmonary Embolism

Author Affiliations

From the Medical Clinic 1 (Drs Perrier, Buswell, and Junod) and Divisions of Angiology and Hemostasis (Drs Bounameaux and de Moerloose), Radiodiagnosis (Dr Didier), Clinical Epidemiology (Dr Morabia), Nuclear Medicine (Dr Slosman), and Medical and Surgical Emergency (Dr Unger), Geneva University Hospital, Geneva, Switzerland.

Arch Intern Med. 1997;157(20):2309-2316. doi:10.1001/archinte.1997.00440410039004

Background:  Noninvasive instruments such as plasma D-dimer measurement (DD) and lower-limb compression ultrasonogaphy (US) are being increasingly advocated to reduce the number of necessary angiograms in patients having suspected pulmonary embolism (PE) and a nondiagnostic lung scan. We therefore designed a decision analysis model (1) to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of combining these noninvasive diagnostic aids with lung scan and angiography in the diagnosis of PE and (2) to determine the optimal sequence and combination of tests taking into account the clinical probability of PE.

Methods:  We performed a cost-effectiveness analysis based on literature data, including data from a management study in our institution. Six diagnostic strategies were compared with the reference, ie, lung scan followed when nondiagnostic (low or intermediate probability) by angiography. In all strategies, PE was ruled out by a normal or near-normal scan, a negative DD (plasma level below 500 μg/L), or a negative angiogram. Pulmonary embolism was diagnosed and anticoagulant treatment was undertaken in the presence of a high-probability lung scan, deep vein thrombosis showed by US, or a positive angiogram. In case of a nondiagnostic scan (low or intermediate probability), patients could be either treated or not treated, or undergo other tests, according to the selected strategy.

Results:  Under baseline conditions (prevalence of PE, 35%), strategies combining DD and US with lung scan, angiography being done only in case of an inconclusive noninvasive workup (DD level >500 μg/L, normal US, and nondiagnostic lung scan), were most cost-effective. This approach yielded a 9% incremental cost reduction and a 37% to 47% decrease in the number of necessary angiograms compared with the reference strategy (scan±angiography). For patients with a low clinical probability of PE (≤20%), withholding treatment from those with a low-probability lung scan without performing an angiogram proved safe and highly cost-effective (30% cost reduction), provided US showed no deep vein thrombosis.

Conclusion:  The DD test and US are cost-effective in the diagnostic workup of PE, whether performed after or before lung scan, thus allowing centers devoid of lung scanning and/or angiography facilities to screen patients with suspected PE and avoid costly referrals. In patients with a low clinical probability, a low-probability lung scan, and a normal US, treatment may be withheld without resorting to angiography.Arch Intern Med. 1997;157:2309-2316