Early, aggressive treatment of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) improves outcomes but confers increased risk. Risk stratification to target aggressive treatment of high-risk individuals with early RA is considered important to optimize outcomes while minimizing clinical and monetary costs. Some advocate the addition of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to standard RA risk stratification with clinical markers for patients early in the disease course. Our objective was to determine the incremental cost-effectiveness of adding MRI to standard risk stratification in early RA.
Using a decision analysis model of standard risk stratification with or without MRI, followed by escalated standard treatment protocols based on treatment response, we estimated 1-year and lifetime quality-adjusted life-years, RA-related costs, and incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (with MRI vs without MRI) for RA patients with fewer than 12 months of disease and no baseline radiographic erosions. Inputs were derived from the published literature. We assumed a societal perspective with 3.0% discounting.
One-year and lifetime incremental cost-effectiveness ratios for adding MRI to standard testing were $204 103 and $167 783 per quality-adjusted life-year gained, respectively. In 1-way sensitivity analyses, model results were insensitive to plausible ranges for every variable except MRI specificity, which published data suggest is below the threshold for MRI cost-effectiveness. In probabilistic sensitivity analyses, most simulations produced lifetime incremental cost-effectiveness ratios in excess of $100 000 per quality-adjusted life-year gained, a commonly cited threshold.
Under plausible clinical conditions, adding MRI is not cost-effective compared with standard risk stratification in early-RA patients.