BACKGROUND: Liver function tests (LFTs) are routinely performed in primary care, and are often the gateway to further invasive and/or expensive investigations. Little is known of the consequences in people with an initial abnormal liver function (ALF) test in primary care and with no obvious liver disease. Further investigations may be dangerous for the patient and expensive for Health Services. The aims of this study are to determine the natural history of abnormalities in LFTs before overt liver disease presents in the population and identify those who require minimal further investigations with the potential for reduction in NHS costs.

METHODS/DESIGN: A population-based retrospective cohort study will follow up all those who have had an incident liver function test (LFT) in primary care to subsequent liver disease or mortality over a period of 15 years (approx. 2.3 million tests in 99,000 people). The study is set in Primary Care in the region of Tayside, Scotland (pop approx. 429,000) between 1989 and 2003. The target population consists of patients with no recorded clinical signs or symptoms of liver disease and registered with a GP. The health technologies being assessed are LFTs, viral and auto-antibody tests, ultrasound, CT, MRI and liver biopsy. The study will utilise the Epidemiology of Liver Disease In Tayside (ELDIT) database to determine the outcomes of liver disease. These are based on hospital admission data (Scottish Morbidity Record 1), dispensed medication records, death certificates, and examination of medical records from Tayside hospitals. A sample of patients (n = 150) with recent initial ALF tests or invitation to biopsy will complete questionnaires to obtain quality of life data and anxiety measures. Cost-effectiveness and cost utility Markov model analyses will be performed from health service and patient perspectives using standard NHS costs. The findings will also be used to develop a computerised clinical decision support tool.

DISCUSSION: The results of this study will be widely disseminated to primary care, as well as G.I. hospital specialists through publications and presentations at local and national meetings and the project website. This will facilitate optimal decision-making both for the benefit of the patient and the National Health Service.

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Published in BMC Health Services Research, v. 7, 54.

© 2007 Donnan et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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