When does mass screening for open neural tube defects in low-risk pregnancies result in cost savings?

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Canadian Medical Association Journal






Using a decision analysis model, we estimated the savings that might be derived from a mass prenatal screening program aimed at detecting open neural tube defects (NTDs) in low-risk pregnancies. Our baseline analysis showed that screening v. no screening could be expected to save approximately $8 per pregnancy given a cost of $7.50 for the maternal serum α-fetoprotein (MSAFP) test and a cost of $42 507 for hospital and rehabilitation services for the first 10 years of life for a child with spina bifida. When a more liberal estimate of the costs of caring for such a child was used, the savings with the screening program were more substantial. We performed extensive sensitivity analyses, which showed that the savings were somewhat sensitive to the cost of the MSAFP test and highly sensitive to the specificity (but not the sensitivity) of the test. A screening program for NTDs in low-risk pregnancies may result in substantial savings in direct health care costs if the screening protocol is followed rigorously and efficiently.

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