Depression is a prevalent long-term condition that is associated with substantial resource use. Telehealth may offer a cost-effective means of supporting the management of people with depression.
To investigate the cost-effectiveness of a telehealth intervention (‘Healthlines’) for patients with depression.
A prospective patient-level economic evaluation conducted alongside a randomised controlled trial. Patients were recruited through primary care, and the intervention was delivered via a telehealth service. Participants with a confirmed diagnosis of depression and PHQ-9 score ≥10 were recruited from 43 English general practices. A series of up to 10 scripted, theory-led, telephone encounters with health information advisers supported participants to effect a behaviour change, use online resources, optimise medication and improve adherence. The intervention was delivered alongside usual care and was designed to support rather than duplicate primary care. Cost-effectiveness from a combined health and social care perspective was measured by net monetary benefit at the end of 12 months of follow-up, calculated from incremental cost and incremental quality-adjusted life years (QALYs). Cost–consequence analysis included cost of lost productivity, participant out-of-pocket expenditure and the clinical outcome.
A total of 609 participants were randomised – 307 to receive the Healthlines intervention plus usual care and 302 to receive usual care alone. Forty-five per cent of participants had missing quality of life data, 41% had missing cost data and 51% of participants had missing data on either cost or utility, or both. Multiple imputation was used for the base-case analysis. The intervention was associated with incremental mean per-patient National Health Service/personal social services cost of £168 (95% CI £43 to £294) and an incremental QALY gain of 0.001 (95% CI −0.023 to 0.026). The incremental cost-effectiveness ratio was £132 630. Net monetary benefit at a cost-effectiveness threshold of £20 000 was –£143 (95% CI –£164 to –£122) and the probability of the intervention being cost-effective at this threshold value was 0.30. Productivity costs were higher in the intervention arm, but out-of-pocket expenses were lower.
The Healthlines service was acceptable to patients as a means of condition management, and response to treatment after 4 months was higher for participants randomised to the intervention. However, the positive average intervention effect size was modest, and incremental costs were high relative to a small incremental QALY gain at 12 months. The intervention is not likely to be cost-effective in its current form.