Cost-effectiveness of Interventions for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome or Myalgic Encephalomyelitis: A Systematic Review of Economic Evaluations

Introduction: Chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME) has profound quality of life and economic consequences for individuals, their family, formal services and wider society. Little is known about which therapeutic interventions are more cost-effective.

Objective: A systematic review was carried out to identify and critically appraise the evidence on the cost-effectiveness of CFS/ME interventions.

Methods: The review protocol was prespecified (PROSPERO: CRD42018118731). Searches were carried out across two databases-MEDLINE (1946-2020) and EMBASE (1974-2020). Additional studies were identified by searching reference lists. Only peer-reviewed journal articles of full economic evaluations examining CFS/ME interventions were included. Trial- and/or model-based economic evaluations were eligible. Data extraction and screening were carried out independently by two reviewers. The methodological quality of the economic evaluation and trial were assessed using the Consensus Health Economic Criteria checklist (CHEC-list) and Risk of Bias-2 (RoB-2) tool, respectively. A narrative synthesis was used to summarise the economic evidence for interventions for adults and children in primary and secondary care settings.

Results: Ten economic evaluations, all based on data derived from randomised controlled trials, met our eligibility criteria. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) was evaluated across five studies, making it the most commonly evaluated intervention. There was evidence from three trials to support CBT as a cost-effective treatment option for adults; however, findings on CBT were not uniform, suggesting that cost-effectiveness may be context-specific. A wide array of other interventions were evaluated in adults, including limited evidence from two trials supporting the cost effectiveness of graded exercise therapy (GET). Just one study assessed intervention options for children. Our review highlighted the importance of informal care costs and productivity losses in the evaluation of CFS/ME interventions.

Conclusions: We identified a limited patchwork of evidence on the cost-effectiveness of interventions for CFS/ME. Evidence supports CBT as a cost-effective treatment option for adults; however, cost-effectiveness may depend on the duration and frequency of sessions. Limited evidence supports the cost effectiveness of GET. Key weaknesses in the literature included small sample sizes and short duration of follow-up. Further research is needed on pharmacological interventions and therapies for children.