Background: Watchful waiting (WW) has been shown to be an acceptable option in men with asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic inguinal hernias when clinical and patient-reported outcomes are considered. Although WW is likely to be less costly initially when compared with tension-free repair (TFR) because of the cost of the operation, it is not clear whether WW remains the least costly option when longer-term costs are considered. Study design: We conducted a cost-effectiveness analysis of a randomized controlled trial at six community and academic centers. We examined costs, quality-adjusted life-years (QALY), and cost-effectiveness at 2 years of followup. Costs were assessed by applying Medicare reimbursement rates to patients' health-care use, which was obtained by contacting patients' health-care providers. Quality of life was assessed using the Short Form-36 version 2 health-related quality-of-life survey. Of the 724 men randomized, 641 were available for the economic analysis: 317 were randomized to TFR and 324 were randomized to watchful waiting. Results: At 2 years, TFR patients had $1,831 higher mean costs than WW patients (95% CI, $409-$3,044), with 0.031 higher QALY (95% CI, 0.001-0.058). The cost per additional QALY for TFR patients was $59,065 (95% CI, $1,358-$322,765). The probability that TFR was cost-effective at the $50,000 per QALY level was 40%. Conclusion: At 2 years, WW was a cost-effective treatment option for men with minimal or no hernia symptoms.
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