Only about 10% to 15% of patients with low back pain who are referred to a spine surgeon actually require a surgical procedure. And because low back pain is such a common presenting complaint, many such patients often wait a long time for a surgery consult. In the December 19, 2018 issue of JBJS, Coyle et al. demonstrate that a simple, 3-item patient-administered questionnaire can identify those better suited for nonoperative management—and thus increase the likelihood that surgical candidates are seen by spine surgeons in an acceptable time frame.
All 227 of the Canadian patients enrolled in this randomized controlled trial received the questionnaire, which elicited information to distinguish between patients with leg-dominant radicular pain and those with back-dominant pain. Evidence-based guidelines recommend nonoperative management for most back-dominant pain, while patients with leg-dominant pain are more likely to need surgery. Researchers randomized 116 patients into an intervention group; these patients were triaged by a spine surgeon and then had their triage status upgraded if responses to the questionnaire indicated leg-dominant symptoms. The 111 patients in the control group were triaged only by a spine surgeon.
After triage, 33 of the 227 patients (15%) were recommended for a surgical procedure—16 from the intervention group and 17 from the control group. Of the 16 surgical candidates identified from the intervention group, 9 (56%) were re-prioritized on the basis of questionnaire results.
The median wait time for a consultation among the 16 surgical candidates in the intervention group was 2.5 months, compared with 4.5 months for the 17 surgical candidates in the control group. A significantly greater percentage of patients in the intervention group than in the control group were seen for a consult with a spine surgeon within the “acceptable” time frame of 3 months. Another benefit of the questionnaire approach evaluated in this study is that it helps identify nonsurgical candidates early, so they can be directed toward more appropriate treatment (such as physical therapy) rather than delaying treatment while waiting for a consult with a spine surgeon.
Although this study was conducted in the setting of the “nationalized” Canadian health care system, wait times to see orthopaedic surgeons and neurosurgeons are also long for many patients in many regions of the US. This questionnaire enhancement to triage could therefore be viable throughout North America, and perhaps beyond.
This post comes from Fred Nelson, MD, an orthopaedic surgeon in the Department of Orthopedics at Henry Ford Hospital and a clinical associate professor at Wayne State Medical School. Some of Dr. Nelson’s tips go out weekly to more than 3,000 members of the Orthopaedic Research Society (ORS), and all are distributed to more than 30 orthopaedic residency programs. Those not sent to the ORS are periodically reposted in OrthoBuzz with the permission of Dr. Nelson.
While a reasonable amount of “pumping iron” exercise has proven beneficial for musculoskeletal health, long-term use of acid-suppressing proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) may have the opposite effect on bone. Many people are currently taking PPIs, most commonly for gastrointestinal disorders such as heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux. Fortunately, many are occasional PPI users, taking the drugs only when symptoms arise. However, PPIs are often prescribed long term for preventive reasons.1
The same proton-pump mechanism present in the GI tract is seen in the vacuolar H+-ATPases that are present in high concentrations on the ruffled border of osteoclasts.2 Years of PPI use may therefore interfere with normal and essential bone remodeling. PPIs are also prescribed in the pediatric population for reflux symptoms. The effect of PPIs on future fracture or long-term osteoporosis in these very young patients is not clear.
The consequences for adult and elderly patients are clearer. Femoral bone mineral density is significantly decreased in PPI users. Also, patients with peptic ulcer disease using PPIs have a higher risk for osteoporosis than peptic ulcer patients not using PPIs. Among younger adults, the risk of fracture was significantly higher in those using PPIs than in those not using PPIs.
In 2010, the FDA issued a communication alerting healthcare professionals that users of PPIs have a possible increased risk of fractures of the hip, wrist, and spine, and that they should weigh the known benefits against the potential risks when recommending use of these medications. In 2011, the FDA refined its language somewhat: “Following a thorough review of available safety data, FDA has concluded that fracture risk with short-term, low dose PPI use is unlikely.” Still, when fractures are the outcome of interest, the data implicates long-term use of PPIs in having deleterious effects on bone.
Although data on human fracture healing in association with PPI use are sparse, animal studies do show that PPIs have a negative impact on normal fracture healing, with a decrease in the expression of important markers of bone formation, including bone morphogenetic protein (BMP)-2, BMP-4, and cysteine-rich angiogenic inducer (CYR)61.
It is time to question the need for chronic use of PPIs by our patients. Orthopaedists should encourage their patients who take PPIs to discuss this matter with their primary care physician.
- Eom CS, Park SM, Myung SK, Yun JM, Ahn JS. Use of acid-suppressive drugs and risk of fracture: a meta-analysis of observational studies. Ann Fam Med. 2011 May-Jun;9(3):257-67. doi: 10.1370/afm.1243. PMID: 21555754
- Wagner SC. Proton Pump Inhibitors and Bone Health: What the Orthopaedic Surgeon Needs to Know. JBJS Rev. 2018 Dec 18. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.RVW.18.00029. [Epub ahead of print] No abstract available. PMID: 30562209
Most patients with clinically apparent juvenile osteochondritis dissecans (JOCD) are between 12 and 19 years of age. Often the disease can be treated successfully with nonoperative modalities, but even in cases where the initial lesion resolves, patients may be predisposed to osteoarthritis later in life. While repetitive microtrauma is suspected to be involved in the development of JOCD, the exact etiology remains poorly understood, even 130 years after the condition was first described.
In the December 19, 2018 issue of The Journal, Toth et al. histologically examined 59 biopsy samples from the central condyles of 26 pediatric cadavers to look for areas of epiphyseal cartilage necrosis. Hypothesizing that such evaluation would reveal some lesions similar to those found in animals, the authors did indeed identify 6 samples with 1 or more areas of necrotic cartilage, which were either incorporated into subchondral bone or associated with focal failure of endochondral ossification. Those characteristics are consistent with a similar disease process called osteochondrosis manifesta seen in pigs and horses. While the clinical significance of these findings remains to be determined, the authors suggest that they may help explain an epiphyseal etiology of JOCD, and the data suggest that these microscopic changes (some of which are rendered in this article as whole-slide images) are probably present in young people 5 to 10 years prior to the clinical manifestations of JOCD.
These findings lend credence to the theory that the underlying etiology of JOCD primarily involves the epiphyseal growth plate rather than subchondral bone. Furthermore, the similarities between these cadaveric specimens and osteochondrosis manifesta lesions in porcine and equine femoral condyles may help us develop improved models to better diagnose, prevent, and treat this pathology.
Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media
Periprosthetic joint infections (PJIs) create a significant burden for patients, surgeons, and healthcare systems. That is why so much research has gone into how best to optimize certain patients preoperatively—such as those with obesity, diabetes, or kidney disease—to decrease the risk of these potentially catastrophic complications. Still, it is not always possible or feasible to optimize every “high-risk” patient who would benefit from a total hip or knee replacement, and therefore many such patients undergo surgery with an increased risk of infection. In such cases, surgeons need additional strategies to decrease PJI risk.
In the December 19, 2018 issue of JBJS, Inabathula et al. investigate whether providing high-risk total joint arthroplasty (TJA) patients with extended postoperative oral antibiotics decreased the risk of PJI within the first 90 days after surgery. In their retrospective cohort study, the authors examined >2,100 total hip and knee replacements performed at a single suburban academic hospital. The patients in 68% of these cases had at least one risk factor for infection. Among those high-risk patients, about half received 7 days of an oral postoperative antibiotic, while the others received only the standard 24 hours of postoperative intravenous (IV) antibiotics.
Relative to those who received IV antibiotics only, those who received extended oral antibiotics experienced an 81% reduction in infection for total knee arthroplasties and a 74% reduction in infection for total hip arthroplasties. I was stunned by such large reductions in infection rates obtained simply by adding an oral antibiotic twice a day for 7 days. Most arthroplasty surgeons go to great lengths to decrease the risk of joint infection by percentages much less than that.
While further investigations are needed and legitimate concerns exist regarding the propagation of antimicrobial-resistant organisms from medical antibiotic misuse, these data are very exciting. I agree with Monti Khatod, MD, who, in his commentary on this study, says that “care pathways that aim to improve modifiable risk factors should not be seen as obsolete based on the findings of this paper.” Furthermore, the study itself is at risk for treatment and selection biases that could greatly influence its outcomes. Nevertheless, getting a successful result in these patients is challenging and, if validated with further data, this research may help surgeons obtain better outcomes when treating high-risk patients in need of hip or knee replacements.
Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media
It has been said that a surgeon’s skill and judgment account for between 80% and 90% of a patient’s outcome. (I believe this is true for both surgical and nonsurgical treatments.) Throw in a physician’s ability to listen and clearly communicate with patients, and I am sure we are approaching that 90% mark. That means that when we conduct randomized trials comparing two types of knee prostheses or fracture-fixation constructs, we are, in essence, scrutinizing only about 10% of the patient-outcome equation.
So how do we best evaluate the 90% of the outcome equation that is physician-dependent? With the advent of “bundled” episodes of care, the orthopaedic community has emphasized the need for risk-adjustment in evaluating surgeon performance. Clearly, there are certain patients who are at higher risk for worse outcomes than others, such as those with diabetes, nicotine abuse, advanced age, and less social support.
In the December 19. 2018 issue of The Journal, Thigpen et al. report on patient outcomes 6 months after arthroscopic rotator cuff repair in 995 patients treated by 34 surgeons. The authors evaluated patient-reported outcomes from all surgeons using both unadjusted and adjusted ASES change scores. The adjusted scores took into account about a dozen baseline patient characteristics, including symptom severity, functional and mental scores, medical comorbidities, and Workers’ Compensation status. Relative to performance rankings based on unadjusted data, risk adjustment significantly altered the rankings for 91% of the surgeons. According to the authors, these findings “underpin the importance of risk-adjustment approaches to accurately report surgeon performance.”
But what is of even greater interest to me is that risk adjustment led to positive increases in patient outcomes for some surgeons, while decreasing outcomes for other surgeons. Some of these outcome differences likely reflect each surgeon’s patient-selection biases, but in the words of the authors, the numbers strongly suggest “that there is a meaningful, distinguishable difference in patient outcomes between surgeons.”
What should we do with this data? In my opinion, surgeons in the lower 80% of the list, at least, ought to be engaging with the surgeons who demonstrated the highest adjusted performance scores to understand what is helping them obtain outcomes that are superior to everyone else’s. We owe it to our patients to understand what our personal outcomes are for at least the most common conditions we treat. I believe it borders on unethical behavior to quote patients outcome data of a procedure from the peer-reviewed literature when we have no idea how our personal results compare. Orthopaedic surgeons need to be more active in lobbying our groups and health systems to support best practices for clinical outcome data collection and reporting so we can, in turn, improve our care by adopting the best practices of the surgeons with the best outcomes.
Marc Swiontkowski, MD
To our knowledge, there are no reports of the Ponseti method initiated after walking age and with >10 years of follow-up. Our goal was to report the clinical findings and patient-reported outcomes for children with a previously untreated idiopathic clubfoot who were seen when they were between 1 and 5 years old, were treated with the Ponseti method, and had a minimum follow-up of 10 years.
The 24th installment of our “What’s Important” series in the JBJS Orthopaedic Forum comes from orthopaedic surgeon Jack W. Crosland. In detailing his recent experience as a patient at a prestigious university teaching hospital, Dr. Crosland declares that what’s important for physicians is “listening and reasoning.”
His thesis is that in the current health care system, the “technology component” of clinical decision making—lab results and imaging data, for example—has become overemphasized, while reliance on information obtained from patients is underemphasized.
In his essay, Dr. Crosland says that his dual perspective as patient and surgeon further convinced him that “physicians can get more pertinent and valuable information from a thorough patient interview than from any other source.”
Dr. Crosland is not radically antitechnology, but he does conclude that “technology should be used to confirm a diagnosis or narrow the list in a differential diagnosis, but it should not be the primary resource to diagnose disease or to determine treatment modalities.”
If you would like JBJS to consider a “What’s Important” story for publication, please submit a manuscript via Editorial Manager. When asked to select an article type, please choose Orthopaedic Forum and include“What’s Important:” at the beginning of the title.
The evidence favoring tranexamic acid (TXA) for reducing surgical blood loss is ample and growing, but until now robust data were sparse regarding its efficacy in the setting of adolescent idiopathic scoliosis surgery. In the December 5, 2018 issue of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, Goobie et al. report on a randomized, blinded, placebo-controlled trial showing that, in that population, TXA reduced perioperative blood loss by 27%, compared with blood loss in a placebo group.
Even with recent advances in scoliosis surgical technique, blood transfusions are common. And, because transfusions are associated with significant morbidity and mortality, limiting operative blood loss and reducing the need for transfusion have become focal points for orthopaedic surgeons.
In this Level-I trial, >100 patients between the ages of 10 and 18 years undergoing elective posterior instrumented spinal fusion were randomized to receive either TXA (infusion of a 50-mg/kg loading dose and a 10-mg/kg/h maintenance dose) or normal saline (delivered in the same way and dose) during surgery. The TXA group demonstrated an overall 27% reduction in cumulative blood loss and a 2-fold reduction in the percentage of patients with clinically relevant blood loss (defined as >20 mL/kg).
The cumulative effect of reduced blood loss was enhanced over time, with the positive effect of TXA being most evident in procedures lasting >4 hours. None of the patients in the TXA group required a transfusion or developed side effects such as thromboembolism or seizures.
In an interesting sidenote, the authors asked the participating orthopaedic surgeons, who were blinded to the randomization, to guess which group each patient had been assigned to by evaluating the relative ooziness of the surgical field. The surgeons guessed correctly 72% of the time.
Overall, these findings prompted the authors to conclude that “the use of TXA as part of a multimodal blood management strategy, as was employed in this study, should be considered the standard of care for patients undergoing surgery for adolescent idiopathic scoliosis.”
Osteoporosis is a “silent” disease, often becoming apparent only after a patient older than 50 sustains a low-energy fracture of the wrist, proximal humerus, or hip. Monitoring serum vitamin D levels and DEXA testing represent ideal screening methods to prevent these sentinel fragility fractures. In addition, through programs such as the AOA’s “Own the Bone” initiative, the orthopaedic community has taken a leadership role in diagnosing and treating osteoporosis after the disease presents as a fragility fracture. Own the Bone is active in all 50 states and, through local physician leadership, is identifying individuals who present with a fragility fracture so they can receive follow-up care that helps mitigate bone loss and prevent secondary fractures.
We still have a long way to go, however. Recent analyses show that only 30% of candidate patients (albeit up from 20%) are receiving this type of evidence-based care. The best-case scenario would be to identify at-risk men and women (osteoporosis does not affect women exclusively) before a potentially serious injury.
In the December 5, 2018 issue of The Journal, Anderson et al. present strong evidence that computed tomography (CT) can provide accurate data for diagnosing osteoporosis. CT is increasingly used (perhaps overused in some settings) across a spectrum of diagnostic investigations. The osseous-related data from these scans can be used to glean accurate information regarding a patient’s bone quality by analyzing the Hounsfield unit (HU) values of bone captured opportunistically by CT. HU data are routinely ignored, but the values correlate strongly with bone mineral density, and they could help us recommend preventive care to our patients before a fragility fracture occurs. (For example, a threshold of <135 HU for the L1 vertebral body indicates a risk for osteoporosis.)
Orthopaedists should discuss the possibility of asking their radiologist colleagues who read CT scans of older patients to routinely share that data. When indicated, we could promptly refer patients back to their primary care provider for discussion of pharmacological treatment and lifestyle changes proven to help prevent primary fragility fractures. There is little doubt that our patients are getting older. Reviewing CT data could help us dramatically improve preventive care and decrease the risk of first-time fragility fractures.
Click here for additional OrthoBuzz posts about fragility fractures.
Marc Swiontkowski, MD