Background: Approximately one-third of musculoskeletal injuries are simple stable injuries (SSIs). Direct discharge (DD) from the emergency department (ED) of patients with SSIs reduces healthcare utilization, without compromising patient outcome and experience, when compared with "traditional" care with routine follow-up. This study aimed to determine the cost-effectiveness of DD compared with traditional care from a societal perspective.
Methods: Societal costs, including healthcare, work absenteeism, and travel costs, were calculated for patients with an SSI, 6 months before (pre-DD cohort) and after implementation of DD (DD cohort). The pre-DD cohort was treated according to local protocols. The DD cohort was treated using orthoses, discharge leaflet, smartphone application, and telephone helpline, without scheduling routine follow-up. Effect measures included generic health-related quality of life (HR-QoL; EuroQol Five-Dimensional Questionnaire); disease-specific HR-QoL (functional outcome, different validated questionnaires, converted to 0-100 scale); treatment satisfaction (Visual Analog Scale (VAS), 1-10); and pain (VAS, 1-10). All data were assessed using a 3-month postinjury survey and electronic patient records. Incremental cost-effectiveness ratios were calculated and uncertainty was assessed using bootstrapping techniques.
Results: Before DD, 144 of 348 participants completed the survey versus 153 of 371 patients thereafter. There were no statistically significant differences between the pre-DD cohort and the DD cohort for generic HR-QoL (0.03; 95% CI -0.01 to 0.08), disease-specific HR-QoL (4.4; 95% CI -1.1 to 9.9), pain (0.08; 95% CI -0.37 to 0.52) and treatment satisfaction (-0.16; 95% CI -0.53 to 0.21). Total societal costs were lowest in the DD cohort (-€822; 95% CI -€1719 to -€67), including healthcare costs (-€168; 95% CI -€205 to -€131) and absenteeism costs (-€645; 95% CI -€1535 to €100). The probability of DD being cost-effective was 0.98 at a willingness-to-pay of €0 for all effect measures, remaining high with increasing willingness-to-pay for generic HR-QoL, disease-specific HR-QoL, and pain, and decreasing with increasing willingness-to-pay for treatment satisfaction.
Discussion: DD from the ED of patients with SSI seems cost-effective from a societal perspective. Future studies should test generalizability in other healthcare systems and strengthen findings in larger injury-specific cohorts.
Level of evidence: II.