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Cost-effective management of common bile duct stones

A decision analysis of the use of endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP), intraoperative cholangiography, and laparoscopic bile duct exploration

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There are a variety of approaches to the diagnosis and treatment of common bile duct (CBD) stones in patients undergoing laparoscopic cholecystectomy (LC).


Decision modeling was used to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of four strategies for managing CBD stones around the time of LC: (a) routine preoperative endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) (preoperative ERCP), (b) LC with intraoperative cholangiography (IOC), followed by laparoscopic common bile duct exploration (LCDE), (c) LC with IOC, followed by ERCP (postoperative ERCP), and (d) expectant management (LC without any tests for CBD stones). Local hospital data were used to estimate costs. Cost-effectiveness was expressed in terms of the cost per case of residual CBD stones prevented (in excess of the cost of LC alone). Diagnostic test characteristics, procedure success rates, and adverse event probabilities were derived from a systematic review of the literature. Sensitivity analysis was used to explore the effect of uncertainty on the results of the model.


LC alone was the least costly strategy, but it was also the least effective. Of the more aggressive strategies, LCDE and preoperative ERCP were associated with marginal costs of $5993.60 and $299,259.35, respectively, per case of residual CBD stones prevented. Postoperative ERCP was more costly and less effective than LCDE, but it had a lower cost-effectiveness ratio than preoperative ERCP when the prevalence of CBD stones was <80%.


Compared to other common approaches, laparoscopic CBD exploration is a cost-effective method of managing CBD stones in patients who undergo LC. If expertise in LCDE is unavailable, selective postoperative ERCP is preferred over routine preoperative ERCP, unless the probability of CBD stones is very high (>80%).

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Correspondence to D. R. Urbach.

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Online publication: 20 October 2000

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Urbach, D.R., Khajanchee, Y.S., Jobe, B.A. et al. Cost-effective management of common bile duct stones. Surg Endosc 15, 4–13 (2001).

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Key words

  • Decision analysis
  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Choledocholithiasis
  • Common bile duct exploration
  • Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography
  • Operative cholangiography