Neither cognitive behavioral therapy nor second-generation antidepressant medications was more cost effective than the other for treating patients with major depressive disorder, according to a recent study published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

A hand underlines the word Depression Michail_Petrov-96/Thinkstock

“In the absence of clear superiority of either treatment, shared decision making incorporating patient preferences is critical,” Eric L. Ross, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and colleagues wrote in their study.

Dr. Ross and colleagues created a decision-analytic model for adults with major depressive disorder in the United States using age and gender data from the Sequenced Treatment Alternatives to Relieve Depression (STAR*D) trial, and simulated a cohort consisting of 62.2% women with a mean age of 40.7 years. Patients underwent cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or received a second-generation antidepressant (SGA) as first-line therapy, and the model calculated risks and benefits of each therapy as well as likelihood of remission and response using data from meta-analyses.

The researchers calculated the average quality-adjusted life-years (QALY) of both treatments at 1 years and 5 years. The incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER) was set at $100,000 or less per QALY for cost effectiveness, and the results were adjusted to 2014 U.S. dollars. Researchers also calculated the net monetary benefit of each treatment based on health and economic outcomes.

At 1 year, Dr. Ross and colleagues found quality-adjusted survival in patients who received CBT increased by 3 days (QALY, 0.008; 95% confidence interval, 0.013-0.025) compared with SGA, but there was a higher mean cost to the health care sector ($900; 95% CI, $500-$1,400) and to society ($1,500; 95% CI, $500-$2,500). CBT was not cost effective at 1 year, with incremental cost-effectiveness ratios in the health care sector of $119,000 per QALY and $186,000 per QALY to society, but the net monetary benefit confidence intervals in the health care sector ($2,400-$1,600) and in society ($3,400-$1,600) appear to show some cost effectiveness for CBT at 1 year, the researchers said.

Compared with SGA, there was an increase of 20 quality-adjusted life days in patients who received CBT at 5 years (QALY, 0.055; 95% CI, 0.044-0.160), and the cost for CBT treatment was reduced by $2,000. While CBT appeared to be cost saving in the base-case analysis, the researchers said there was some uncertainty in the cost effectiveness of CBT when they calculated the incremental net monetary benefit of CBT for the health care sector ($8,100-$21,700) and to society ($10,400-$25,300). In a sensitivity analysis, preference for SGA as a first-line therapy at 1 year was between 64% and 77%, while CBT became more preferred between 1.5 and 2 years, and had between a 73% and 87% preference range at 5 years.

In a related editorial, Mark Sinyor, MD, of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, said that although more longitudinal data are needed comparing outcomes in patients with major depressive disorder undergoing treatment with psychotherapy or medication, clinicians should act on what the current evidence shows about the effectiveness of CBT and SGA.

“It is increasingly evident that differences in effectiveness between CBT and SGAs are not substantial and that CBT has some advantages, including potentially lower long-term costs. These must be balanced with the advantages of SGAs, such as potentially more rapid action as well as efficacy across the full [major depressive disorder] severity spectrum,” he said.

Dr. Sinyor also called for CBT and SGA to be made available to all patients with major depressive disorder.

“Antidepressants for [major depressive disorder] are widely accessible in developed countries and that is important for our patients. If we are serious about providing evidence-based care, CBT must become equally available,” he said.

Neil Skolnik, MD, professor of family and community medicine at Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, and an associate director of the family medicine residency program at Abington Jefferson Health, echoed the sentiment that CBT should be offered alongside antidepressants for treatment of major depressive disorder.

Dr. Neil Skolnik, Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia

Dr. Neil Skolnik

“CBT works as well or better than antidepressant medication, and since people learn skills that they can continue to use, it often has a long-lasting effect. In my experience, for people for whom CBT works – that is, for people who are seeing a therapist who use CBT as their technique and who are willing to put in the work it takes – CBT can be life changing,” he said in an interview. “So, I am not surprised, but I am happy to see the results of this study showing that CBT is cost effective.”

Dr. Skolnik emphasized that not every therapist offers CBT, so health care providers should be aware of the type of therapy they are referring their patients for and monitor that therapy when possible.

“We should talk to our patients, present them with options, and then decide together with our patients which approach is best for them,” Dr. Skolnik added. “Medications work, and for many this is a good choice. CBT works, and for many this is a good choice. For some patients, using both CBT and medications is the optimal choice. Both are about equally cost effective. We should discuss the options with our patients and decide the path forward together.”

This study was funded by grants from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development and the National Institute of Mental Health. Dr. Ross reported receiving a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health. Two coauthors reported receiving grants from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Dr. Sinyor and Dr. Skolnik reported no conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Ross EL et al. Ann Intern Med. 2019. doi: 10.7326/M18-1480.