This is my first Editor’s Choice for OrthoBuzz as new Editor-in-Chief of JBJS. I am following the example of my esteemed predecessor, Vern Tolo, who recently issued an Editor’s Choice warning about our failure to improve the management of patients with fragility fractures in terms of appropriate diagnosis and treatment of underlying osteoporosis. That is a failure of under-treatment. I want to focus on a potential issue of overtreatment.
In the July 2, 2014 JBJS, Leroux et al. describe the risk factors for repeat surgery after ORIF of midshaft clavicle fractures. The study analyzed 1,350 patients treated with surgery between 2002 and 2010 in Ontario. It is important to note that this analysis includes years after 2007, when JBJS published the seminal multicenter RCT on this topic by the Canadian Orthopaedic Trauma Society (COTS). The essence of that study was that ORIF with plate fixation results in a lower rate of nonunion and better functional outcomes predominantly in patients who have completely displaced fractures with about 2 cm of shortening or displacement.
Since that publication, we have seen an explosion in the operative treatment of midshaft clavicle fractures in North America. However, all too often the inclusion criteria derived from the seminal RCT are not referenced in individual patient decision making, and the presence of a clavicle fracture–regardless of degree of displacement–becomes an indication for surgical management.
The findings of the Leroux study should help put a hard stop to this! These researchers found a 24.6% incidence of repeat surgery in this cohort of patients. The most common reoperation was isolated implant removal (18.8%), and the incidence of major complications included nonunion (2.6%), deep infection (2.6%), pneumothoraces (1.2%), and malunion (1.1%). Risk of reoperation was increased in female patients and in those with major medical comorbidities. Limited surgeon experience increased the risk of reoperation for infection.
The orthopaedic surgery community must heed these data and act upon them. We should not misinterpret the COTS study to “encourage” a patient to opt for surgery if he or she has a midshaft clavicle fracture with less than 2 cm of shortening or displacement. The technical aspects of surgery for midshaft clavicle nonunion is not that different than that for a fresh fracture, so avoidance of nonunion must be thoughtfully discussed with the patient before recommending surgical fixation.
The bottom line that Leroux et al. provide is that surgery for a midshaft clavicle fracture is not a guaranteed success and that surgeon experience matters. And beyond clavicle fractures, let’s be sure we use our literature during shared decision making in an accurate and appropriate manner. That is a basic tenet of professionalism that we all should subscribe to.