OBJECTIVES: Occasionally alternative techniques such as precut sphincterotomy or percutaneous transhepatic cholangiography (PTC) are required to achieve access to the common bile duct. Tradeoffs exist, however, with respect to their complications and costs. Some experts believe that precut sphincterotomy should not be performed at all. We aimed to compare the cost-effectivenesses of metallic biliary stent placement after an initial failed cannulation attempt at ERCP utilizing precut sphincterotomy and placement utilizing PTC for palliation of jaundice. A cost-effectiveness analysis was performed, as viewed from the societal perspective. METHODS: A decision analysis model was designed comparing precut sphincterotomy and PTC approaches for placement of a metallic biliary stent for palliation of jaundice in a patient with inoperable malignant distal biliary obstruction in whom an initial attempt at ERCP cannulation had failed. Baseline probabilities, obtained from the published literature, were varied through plausible ranges using sensitivity analysis. Charges were based on Medicare professional plus facility fees or diagnosis-related group rates for out- and inpatients, respectively. The outcome measured was cost per year of life. RESULTS: Sensitivity analysis showed that precut sphincterotomy with subsequent PTC, if necessary, was the most cost-effective strategy provided the precut complication rate was <51% ($9,033/yr), versus $14,741/yr for PTC. CONCLUSIONS: Precut sphincterotomy followed by PTC (if necessary) is the most cost-effective strategy for palliative biliary stenting in the setting of malignant distal biliary obstruction after a failed ERCP attempt. The endoscopic approach is best practiced by experienced endoscopists who minimize precut complication rates.
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