Although medical therapy is known to reduce the risk of kidney stone recurrence, the cost effectiveness of medical prophylaxis is controversial. We evaluated medical treatment strategies including dietary measures (conservative), empiric medical therapy (empiric) or directed medical therapy (directed) based on comprehensive metabolic evaluation (CME) for patients with recurrent kidney stones, and compared the costs of these strategies using cost data from ten different countries. We previously established rates of stone formation in recurrent stone-formers, risk reduction of medical therapy, sensitivity of CME and rates of spontaneous stone passage from a comprehensive literature search (Lotan et al. 2004 J Urol 172: 2275). The costs of medication, surgical therapy, emergency room visits and CME for ten different countries were obtained from a published report of an international cost survey (Chandhoke 2002 J Urol 168: 937) as well as from our own county hospital in the US. Medication costs in the US were obtained from two national pharmacy chains. A decision tree model was created to compare the costs of different treatment strategies assuming cost accrual for metabolic evaluation, medical therapy and surgery or emergency room visits. For medical therapy, we assumed the distribution of medication use described in the published report, consisting of potassium citrate (60%), thiazide (30%) and allopurinol (10%). A nearly 20-fold difference in the costs of shock-wave lithotripsy, ureteroscopy and medication was found among different countries. From the model (US dollars/patient/year), conservative therapy alone was the most cost effective approach followed by empiric and directed medical therapy in all countries except in the UK. In the UK, the cost of drug therapy (estimated at $29/patient/year) resulted in empiric therapy being the most cost effective strategy for recurrent stone formers. The low likelihood of surgical intervention, as well as the low relative cost of surgery to medication, contributed to the higher cost of empiric and directed medical therapy strategies. Of note, despite the higher cost, drug treatment strategies were associated with significantly lower stone recurrence rates. We found that drug treatment strategies are more costly than conservative treatment but produce good control of stone formation. In all but one country (UK), dietary therapy was the most cost effective approach due to the relatively low cost of surgery compared with medication. The differential resource allocation to different components of a healthcare system (i.e. subsidized medication versus surgical treatment) in different countries determines the cost effectiveness of various treatment strategies.
Medical evaluationNephrolithiasisHealth economicsInternational comparison