Due to organ scarcity and wait-list mortality, transplantation of donation after cardiac death (DCD) livers has increased. However, the group of patients benefiting from DCD liver transplantation is unknown. We studied the comparative effectiveness of DCD versus donation after brain death (DBD) liver transplantation. A Markov model was constructed to compare undergoing DCD transplantation with remaining on the wait-list until death or DBD liver transplantation. Differences in life years, quality-adjusted life years (QALYs), and costs according to candidate Model for End-Stage Liver Disease (MELD) score were considered. A separate model for hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) patients with and without MELD exception points was constructed. For patients with a MELD score <15, DCD transplantation resulted in greater costs and reduced effectiveness. Patients with a MELD score of 15 to 20 experienced an improvement in effectiveness (0.07 QALYs) with DCD liver transplantation, but the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER) was >$2,000,000/QALY. Patients with MELD scores of 21 to 30 (0.25 QALYs) and >30 (0.83 QALYs) also benefited from DCD transplantation with ICERs of $478,222/QALY and $120,144/QALY, respectively. Sensitivity analyses demonstrated stable results for MELD scores <15 and >20, but the preferred strategy for the MELD 15 to 20 category was uncertain. DCD transplantation was associated with increased costs and reduced survival for HCC patients with exception points but led to improved survival (0.26 QALYs) at a cost of $392,067/QALY for patients without exception points. In conclusion, DCD liver transplantation results in inferior survival for patients with a MELD score <15 and HCC patients receiving MELD exception points, but provides a survival benefit to patients with a MELD score >20 and to HCC patients without MELD exception points.
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