BACKGROUND: In a study carried out before laparoscopy or managed care, there was no cost or patient benefit for routine incidental appendectomy. With the onset of laparoscopy, a change in indications for surgery, and increased prevalence of capitated contracts, a reanalysis of the cost-effectiveness of incidental appendectomy is warranted. STUDY DESIGN: Financial data from 251 patients undergoing appendectomy for acute appendicitis without complication at a single institution were identified. Age-specific epidemiology data from the Centers for Disease Control, Atlanta, were applied to assess risk and cost of future appendectomy. The net cost or savings for incidental appendectomies necessary to prevent one case of acute appendectomy was determined and stratified by gender and age to the population as a whole. Further adjustment was made for the variable level of surgeon reimbursement for incidental appendectomy. RESULTS: At 10% surgeon reimbursement, open incidental appendectomy was cost-effective in those less than 25 years of age (< 35 years of age in a capitated system). Applied to the general population, open incidental appendectomy in those less than 25 years represented savings of up to $1,100 per 10,000 population per year. A surgeon fee of greater than 50%, or the laparoscopic approach using staplers, accrued no savings in any age groups. CONCLUSIONS: Open incidental appendectomy at low physician reimbursement is a cost-effective procedure for patients of less than 35 years of age. A decrease in equipment cost for laparoscopic approach will extend these indications.
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