Utility attributes a value to the state of health or disease. We measured utility as quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs) over the patient’s remaining lifetime discounted at 3% per year . We assessed the literature for patient surveys, which attributed utilities and disutilities to the following health states after a patient sustained a contralateral femur fracture: year of fracture, postprophylaxis with or without surgical complications, and death. In states except for death, QALYs and costs were determined from the literature (Table 1). We attributed a larger QALY loss to postfracture complications because these complications such as nonunion are generally more morbid than postprophylaxis complications [2, 40].
QALY reductions for health states were rooted in studies that assess the impact of hip fractures on quality of life [1, 12, 42]. These publications used validated tools to assess patient mobility, self-care, activities of daily living, pain, and emotional well-being. We applied these findings with clinical judgment to reach baseline QALY changes, which were then subjected to sensitivity analysis.
Given the inherent uncertainty in probability, cost, and utility estimates, we performed univariate, deterministic sensitivity analyses across all model inputs to evaluate how results changed with variation in parameter inputs with low and high ranges determined from published studies (Table 1). The incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER) was calculated by dividing the difference in costs from the payer perspective using Medicare reimbursements by the difference in QALYs between the two treatment arms. We interpreted changes in policy that lowered cost while increasing QALYs as cost-saving, ICER of < USD 50,000 per QALY as definitely cost-effective, ICER between USD 50,000 and USD 100,000 per QALY as likely cost-effective, and ICER greater than USD 100,000 or loss in QALYs as not cost-effective . Additionally, two-way sensitivity analysis was performed with the three most sensitive model parameters over the ranges reported elsewhere for high-risk patients [2, 4, 9, 13, 29, 37]. These analyses demonstrate how simultaneous varying of two model inputs will affect the ICER.
For patients who sustain an atypical femur fracture with standard risk for contralateral fracture at age 70 years, prophylactic fixation of the contralateral femur is not cost-effective at a willingness to pay (WTP) of USD 100,000/QALY and is definitely cost-effective for patients aged 70 years with a high fracture risk. Performing prophylaxis for standard-risk patients resulted in slightly greater lifetime QALYs (11.3 versus 11.2 for no prophylaxis) at a higher lifetime cost (USD 11,500 versus USD 3600 for no prophylaxis), resulting in an ICER of USD 131,300/QALY. For patients deemed at high risk of contralateral atypical femur fracture, prophylaxis resulted in slightly greater lifetime QALYs (11.3 versus 11.1 for no prophylaxis) at higher lifetime cost (USD 11,500 versus USD 6400 for no prophylaxis), resulting in an ICER of USD 22,400/QALY. In both standard-risk and high-risk patients, the prophylactic strategy is associated with higher lifetime costs resulting from the cost of performing prophylactic surgery, but also higher lifetime QALYs driven by a reduction in disutility from fewer long-term complications and poor outcomes from surgeries for atypical femur fracture as well as prevention of disutility caused by the contralateral atypical femur fracture in the year of the injury.
Prophylactic fixation for patients with standard risk is likely cost-effective only when patients are between 60 and 66 years of age, whereas prophylaxis is definitely cost-effective for high-risk patients between 60 and 84 years of age and likely cost-effective between 84 and 89 years of age (Fig. 3). We define patients at high fracture risk as those with more than one risk factor including Asian ethnicity, prodromal pain, femoral bowing, varus proximal geometry, or radiographic changes in the contralateral femur such as periosteal beaking or a transverse radiolucent line because these patients are more likely to have a contralateral fracture if no intervention is performed [20, 37, 41]. Prophylactic surgery is more cost-effective among patients on the younger end of our studied population (60-90 years old) because older patients have a lower life expectancy.
Sensitivity analysis was performed across all inputs in the model based on the ranges described (Table 1).
ICER values are most affected by changes to cost of prophylaxis treatment, patient age, and probability of prophylaxis complication, whereas changes to probability of fracture within 5 years affect ICER values to a lesser extent (Fig. 4). Prophylaxis for a 70-year-old patient with high risk is likely cost-effective at a WTP threshold of USD 100,000/QALY when the cost of prophylaxis is less than USD 29,400, the probability of prophylaxis complication is < 21%, or if the patient is younger than 89 years old and within ranges tested in all other model parameters.
Two-way sensitivity analysis revealed that with zero probability of a prophylaxis complication for high-risk patients, the cost of prophylaxis could be as high as USD 26,300 and prophylactic surgery would still be definitely cost-effective, whereas at a 22% probability of a prophylaxis complication, the cost of prophylaxis surgery must be less than USD 7420 to be definitely cost-effective (Fig. 5A). Additionally, as the probability of prophylaxis complications increases, the cost of prophylaxis must decrease to maintain cost-effectiveness. At zero probability of a prophylaxis complication for high-risk patients, prophylaxis would be considered definitely cost-effective for patients at any age between 60 and 90 years, but at a 22% probability of prophylaxis complications, prophylaxis only for patients between 60 and 66 years would be considered likely cost-effective (Fig. 5B). These findings further suggest that a low probability of prophylaxis complications can offset the effects of increased patient age and cost of prophylactic complications on cost-effectiveness.
Patients who have one atypical femur fracture have been found to be at increased risk of contralateral atypical femur fracture [20, 37]. Orthopaedic surgeons who are presented with these patients have to mitigate the risk of a contralateral fracture. No clear, validated guidelines exist to support decision-making . We used Markov modeling to assess whether prophylactically fixing the contralateral femur in these patients would be cost-effective and, if so, in which patient demographics. We chose Markov modeling to assess simulated patients with atypical femur fracture because these patients have distinct health states with defined costs, utilities, and transition probabilities and because Markov modeling is a well-accepted approach for cost-effectiveness analysis . At a WTP threshold of USD 100,000/QALY, this study indicates prophylactic fixation of the contralateral side after unilateral atypical femur fracture is not cost-effective among patients older than 66 years old with a standard risk of fracture and is cost-effective for patients between 60 and 89 years of age with a high risk of fracture. Sensitivity analysis revealed that our model was quite robust, meaning our results did not change with broad variation in the assumed risks, costs, and utilities. Our findings are therefore generalizable to patients, providers, and payers faced with the decision of whether to prophylactically treat the contralateral hip after atypical femur fracture.
The study has several limitations. First, there are no randomized clinical trials assessing prophylactic management of the contralateral femur in patients with atypical femur fracture, and the relatively low absolute risk of an atypical femur fracture means that there is a limited body of literature from which model inputs could be extracted . Atypical femur fracture-specific fracture risks, complication rates, and costs were used where available, but were based on small prospective and retrospective studies of limited generalizability. Some values for both prophylactic and traumatic femur fixation complications and health state utilities were estimated from studies on fragility hip fractures and are not specific to the atypical femur fracture population, because these values were not found in the literature [4, 12, 13, 21, 33]. The values for the model inputs were not determined through a systematic review, although we attempted to use data from the largest studies that most closely matched the patient demographics being assessed. Costs were determined from national average Medicare reimbursement rates, which may not be representative of individual institutional costs. Additionally, the length of SNF stays was partially determined by expert opinion, and average daily cost of a SNF stay was based on the national average Medicare reimbursement rate . We selected a WTP threshold of USD 100,000/QALY, which is an arbitrary but commonly reported value in the literature . Another weakness is the creation of a single high-risk fracture group that includes multiple known risk factors. We did not model the specific contribution of every known risk factor, because the effect sizes are unclear. Studies have indicated that prodromal hip pain, radiographic changes such as periosteal beaking, varus proximal femoral geometry, Asian ethnicity, and curvature of the femoral diaphysis may increase fracture risk [16, 19, 25, 35, 37, 38]. Finally, no pharmacologic or nonoperative modalities for decreasing fracture risk were tested. Fracture risk may be decreased by stopping antiresorptive medications, restricted weightbearing, and medical management with calcium, vitamin D, or teriparatide, and surgical treatment is currently advised if pain persists after 2 to 3 months of nonoperative treatment [5, 16, 37].
In our model, prophylactic fixation of the contralateral femur was not a cost-effective strategy for patients with standard fracture risk, but was cost-effective for patients at high risk for atypical femur fractures associated with bisphosphonate use. A systematic review performed by Toro et al. to create a decision-making algorithm for the management of patients who present with a complete atypical femur fracture and an incomplete contralateral fracture suggested that prophylactic fixation of the contralateral fracture should be the gold standard to allow for early weightbearing and prevent progression of the fracture . These patients share many characteristics with patients we define as high risk such as prodromal pain, varus geometry, and radiographic changes, and many of these findings are highlighted as minor features for diagnosing an atypical femur fracture in the Second ASBMR Report on Atypical Femur Fractures . Our novel findings corroborate these conclusions with cost-effectiveness data supporting prophylactic fixation in high-risk patients.
In our analysis, we identified several variables that influenced the cost-effectiveness of prophylactic fixation. Changes to the cost of prophylaxis treatment, probability of prophylaxis complications, and cost of fracture treatment were among the variables that generated the largest variation in the ICER, as may be expected (Fig. 4). Additionally, patient age of presentation significantly affected the ICER with patients closer to 60 years of age benefiting more from prophylaxis compared with older patients, which is consistent with a previously published cost-effectiveness analysis that found that prophylactic fixation of the contralateral hip after unilateral fragility hip fracture could be cost-effective in women younger than 70 years or between 71 and 75 years with a 30% greater relative risk for contralateral fracture . We found the probability of fracture within 5 years, the QALY reduction associated for each year after fracture complication, and the probability of fracture complication affected the ICER as well but to a lesser extent.
After sustaining a bisphosphonate-associated atypical femur fracture, the patient and clinician must decide between observation and prophylactic fixation of the contralateral side. This decision also has important financial implications for the healthcare system. The principal advantage of observation is avoiding the morbidity and cost of additional surgery; the principal advantage of prophylaxis is avoiding the unpredictability, acute disability, and potential complications of a subsequent contralateral atypical femur fracture, which is associated with greater pain, prolonged hospitalization, urgent surgical intervention, and delayed healing. Our findings suggest that prophylactic surgical intervention should be considered a cost-effective intervention for patients at high risk of sustaining a contralateral fracture after presenting with unilateral atypical femur fracture, specifically those who have more than one risk factor such as Asian ethnicity, prodromal pain, femoral geometry changes, or radiographic findings on the contralateral femur. A better understanding of the degree of risk contributed by known radiographic and demographic parameters would be beneficial to guide management, which could be accomplished with a large cohort study that prospectively documents known risk factors for atypical femur fractures.
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