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Is TMS Cost-Effective?

By Dee Rapposelli | November 09, 2015

© 1996 – 2015 UBM Medica, LLC, a UBM company. All Rights Reserved.

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Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) is known to be a safe, noninvasive, treatment for major depressive disorder (MDD), but how does cost compare with that of pharmacotherapy?

Australian researchers compared the cost-effectiveness of rTMS with pharmacotherapy in treatment-resistant patients with MDD (ie, those who have failed at least 2 courses of antidepressant therapy).1 They found that, although both pharmacotherapy and rTMS are clinically effective, rTMS is more cost-effective.

Considering that up to 40% of patients with MDD either do not respond to or tolerate pharmacotherapy and that up to 85% of patients who do respond can be expected to relapse within 15 years, exploration of methods that more economically sustain quality of life is worthwhile.

Although several studies have compared the cost of rTMS with that of electroconvulsive therapy, only one has compared the pharmacoeconomics of rTMS with that of pharmacotherapy for MDD.2 In that 2009 study, rTMS provides an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio of USD $34,999 per quality-adjusted life-year (QALY). (The willingness-to-pay threshold was set at USD $50,000 per QALY.)

To further explore the issue, the Australian research team1 used a 3-year Markov microsimulation model with 2-monthly cycles to compare costs and QALYs of rTMS and standard pharmacotherapy with a variety of commonly used antidepressant medications. These include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, tricyclic agents, noradrenergic and specific serotonergic antidepressants, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors. Data were also extracted from published literature, cost reports, and expert opinion. Incremental cost-utility ratios and univariate and multivariate probabilistic sensitivity analyses were applied.

rTMS, which induces an electrical current in a localized region of the cerebral cortex, requires a patient to present 3 to 5 times per week for 4 to 6 weeks of treatment. Treatment sessions last about 40 minutes. No anesthesia or muscle relaxants are needed. Patients can resume normal activities immediately after a session, although common adverse events include mild-to-moderate posttreatment headache and mild pain or discomfort at the treatment site.

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