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Who is the cheapest at treating soft tissue injuries in emergency departments?

04 Jan 2013

Objectives

To evaluate the cost effectiveness of soft tissue injury management by emergency nurse practitioners (ENPs) and extended scope physiotherapists (ESPs) compared with the routine care provided by doctors in an emergency department (ED).

Design

Randomised, pragmatic trial of equivalence.

Setting

A single ED in England.

Participants

372 patients were randomised, 126 to the ESP group, 123 to the ENP group and 123 to the doctor group. Participants were adults (16 years and older) presenting to the ED with a peripheral soft tissue injury eligible for management by any of the three professional groups.

Interventions

Patients were randomised to treatment by an ESP, ENP or routine care provided by doctors (of all grades).

Main outcome measures

Economic cost-minimisation evaluation from a funder perspective of the National Health Service, England incorporating analysis of the direct, indirect and tangible costs of care in primary and secondary settings.

Results

From a funder perspective in primary and secondary care, ESPs and ENPs are at best equivalent and could not cost less than routine care. Uncertainty in cost arises from ESPs and ENPs incurring greater indirect costs, such as those associated with follow-up appointments and subsequent primary care visits. Comparison from a funder perspective in secondary care, that is, considering those costs incurred in secondary care alone, demonstrates that ENPs are equivalent in cost to routine care, while ESPs are either equivalent or possibly cheaper than routine care.

Conclusions

These results question the notion that training the healthcare workforce to undertake extensions of their role is generally cost effective. While the randomised trial indicated that the three professional groups have equivalent clinical outcomes, this economic analysis suggests that substitution of routine care with a predominantly ESP or ENP workforce could prove more expensive. Further research is required to understand the underlying reasons for this. The trial has been registered with ISRCTN-ISRCTN 70891354.

Date: 
4 January 2013

Click here to view the full article which appeared in BMJ Open