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Cost-effectiveness analysis of arthroscopic surgery compared with non-operative management for osteoarthritis of the knee.

  • Author(s): Marsh, Jacquelyn D
  • Birmingham, Trevor B
  • Giffin, J Robert
  • Isaranuwatchai, Wanrudee
  • Hoch, Jeffrey S
  • Feagan, Brian G
  • Litchfield, Robert
  • Willits, Kevin
  • Fowler, Peter
  • et al.


To determine the cost-effectiveness of arthroscopic surgery in addition to non-operative treatments compared with non-operative treatments alone in patients with knee osteoarthritis (OA).

Design, setting and participants

We conducted an economic evaluation alongside a single-centre, randomised trial among patients with symptomatic, radiographic knee OA (KL grade ≥ 2).


Patients received arthroscopic debridement and partial resection of degenerative knee tissues in addition to optimised non-operative therapy, or optimised non-operative therapy only.

Main outcome measures

Direct and indirect costs were collected prospectively over the 2-year study period. The effectiveness outcomes were the Western Ontario McMaster Osteoarthritis Index (WOMAC) and quality-adjusted life years (QALYs). Cost-effectiveness was estimated using the net benefit regression framework considering a range of willingness-to-pay values from the Canadian public payer and societal perspectives. We calculated incremental cost-effectiveness ratios and conducted sensitivity analyses using the extremes of the 95% CIs surrounding mean differences in effect between groups.


168 patients were included. Patients allocated to arthroscopy received partial resection and debridement of degenerative meniscal tears (81%) and/or articular cartilage (97%). There were no significant differences between groups in use of non-operative treatments. The incremental net benefit was negative for all willingness-to-pay values. Uncertainty estimates suggest that even if willing to pay $400,000 to achieve a clinically important improvement in WOMAC score, or ≥$50,000 for an additional QALY, there is <20% probability that the addition of arthroscopy is cost-effective compared with non-operative therapies only. Our sensitivity analysis suggests that even when assuming the largest treatment effect, the addition of arthroscopic surgery is not economically attractive compared with non-operative treatments only.


Arthroscopic debridement of degenerative articular cartilage and resection of degenerative meniscal tears in addition to non-operative treatments for knee OA is not an economically attractive treatment option compared with non-operative treatment only, regardless of willingness-to-pay value.

Trial registration number


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