When is critical care medicine cost-effective? A systematic review of the cost-effectiveness literature* Academic Article uri icon


  • Background: Receiving care in an intensive care unit can greatly influence patients’ survival and quality of life. Such treatments can, however, be extremely resource intensive. Therefore, it is increasingly important to understand the costs and consequences associated with interventions aimed at reducing mortality and morbidity of critically ill patients. Cost-effectiveness analyses (CEAs) have become increasingly common to aid decisions about the allocation of scarce healthcare resources. Objectives: To identify published original CEAs presenting cost/quality-adjusted life year or cost/life-year ratios for treatments used in intensive care units, to summarize the results in an accessible format, and to identify areas in critical care medicine that merit further economic evaluation. Methods: We conducted a systematic search of the English-language literature for original CEAs of critical care interventions published from 1993 through 2003. We collected data on the target population, therapy or program, study results, analytic methods employed, and the cost-effectiveness ratios presented. Results: We identified 19 CEAs published through 2003 with 48 cost-effectiveness ratios pertaining to treatment of severe sepsis, acute respiratory failure, and general critical care interventions. These ratios ranged from cost saving to $958,423/quality-adjusted life year and from $1,150 to $575,054/life year gained. Many studies reported favorable cost-effectiveness profiles (i.e., below $50,000/life year or quality-adjusted life year). Conclusions: Specific interventions such as activated protein C for patients with severe sepsis have been shown to provide good value for money. However, overall there is a paucity of CEA literature on the management of the critically ill, and further high-quality CEA is needed. In particular, research should focus on costly interventions such as 24-hr intensivist availability, early goal-directed therapy, and renal replacement therapy. Recent guidelines for the conduct of CEAs in critical care may increase the number and improve the quality of future CEAs.

publication date

  • January 1, 2006