Background: The role and timing of microsurgical reconstruction of
the brachial plexus in infants who have no signs of biceps recovery within the
first six months of life is controversial. The purpose of the present study
was to create an economic model to compare microsurgical treatment at three as
opposed to six months in patients with brachial plexus birth palsy who had no
return of biceps function at three months.
Methods: A cost-minimization study was performed with use of a
decision-analysis model. Natural history, success, and tendon transfer and
osteotomy rates were estimated from the literature. Costs were estimated from
a single center.
Results: The literature on patients without nerve root avulsion
supports an 80% rate of biceps recovery between three and six months of age.
On the basis of this value, microsurgical intervention at three months was
more expensive than microsurgical intervention at six months. Microsurgical
intervention at three months cost more than twice as much as intervention at
six months. Sensitivity analysis revealed that when the rate of biceps
recovery was 40% and surgery at three months was three times more successful
than surgery at six months, then both treatments had equal costs.
Conclusions: It is unlikely that microsurgical intervention at three
months for the treatment of rupture injuries of the brachial plexus will be
successful enough to produce overall cost savings. While our results should
not be used to dictate policy decisions as they are not definitive and remain
contingent on future studies, it is still reasonable to consider economic
factors and quality-of-life outcomes in brachial plexus birth palsy treatment
strategies and future research.
Level of Evidence: Economic and decision analysis, Level
II. See Instructions to Authors for a complete description of levels of