A model-based economic evaluation demonstrates that stepped approaches based on initial treatment with nonopioids are most likely to represent the most cost-effective regimens for sciatica.
The aim of this paper is to estimate the relative cost-effectiveness of treatment regimens for managing patients with sciatica. A deterministic model structure was constructed based on information from the findings from a systematic review of clinical effectiveness and cost-effectiveness, published sources of unit costs, and expert opinion. The assumption was that patients presenting with sciatica would be managed through one of 3 pathways (primary care, stepped approach, immediate referral to surgery). Results were expressed as incremental cost per patient with symptoms successfully resolved. Analysis also included incremental cost per utility gained over a 12-month period. One-way sensitivity analyses were used to address uncertainty. The model demonstrated that none of the strategies resulted in 100% success. For initial treatments, the most successful regime in the first pathway was nonopioids, with a probability of success of 0.613. In the second pathway, the most successful strategy was nonopioids, followed by biological agents, followed by epidural/nerve block and disk surgery, with a probability of success of 0.996. Pathway 3 (immediate surgery) was not cost-effective. Sensitivity analyses identified that the use of the highest cost estimates results in a similar overall picture. While the estimates of cost per quality-adjusted life year are higher, the economic model demonstrated that stepped approaches based on initial treatment with nonopioids are likely to represent the most cost-effective regimens for the treatment of sciatica. However, development of alternative economic modelling approaches is required.