I’ll be honest: I have never worried much about breakage of the cephalomedullary nails I implant for proximal femur fractures. Instead, I’m focused on the fracture reduction, soft-tissue handling, and proper implant positioning. These nails are very strong. Sure, failures of these implants may occur and have been reported. But I have never had a lengthy discussion with a patient about the potential risk of the implant breaking during normal activity—and I doubt many other surgeons have either.
That is why the article by Lambers et al. in the May 1, 2019 issue of The Journal grabbed my attention. The authors carefully analyzed 16 cases in which a specific cephalomedullary nail (the TFNA, made from a titanium-molybdenum alloy) broke in 13 patients after an average of 5 months. Of note, 3 patients who underwent a revision with the same type of nail had a repeat fracture of the implant. The majority of these patients had been treated for a reverse oblique intertrochanteric fracture —a type that we all commonly see and treat—and all the fractures had been well reduced at the time of nail insertion.
The implant fractures all occurred at the proximal aperture of the nail and were consistent with fatigue fracture of the alloy. But they all showed a unique “stepped propagation” pattern, whereby, according to the authors, “a planar crack arrested, changed planes by 90°, progressed, arrested, and then changed planes again by 90° until final failure.”
These types of implant failures are not common for this nail, but they apparently happen more often than I thought. I am certain that the manufacturer will be responding to this data, and I look forward to future design changes—especially because the authors hypothesize that prior changes to this nail’s design and/or alloy may have contributed to these breakages. Then again, there may have been errors in technique that made these types of failures more common, or maybe a different implant would have been a better choice for some of these patients. To me, matching fracture type and implant choice is very important.
I look forward to learning more about this issue and will keep these types of implant failures in the back of my mind during hip-fracture cases. In the meantime, Lambers et al. advise “vigilant clinical and radiographic surveillance of patients with unstable hip fracture patterns who undergo osteosynthesis with use of a TFNA implant.”
Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media
The concept of asking and accounting for patient preferences in non-emergent treatment decisions has been discussed in the medical literature for nearly two decades. Michael J. Barry, MD and others have quite fully developed this notion of “shared decision making” (SDM). In the context of patient desires, SDM includes a presentation of the treatment options and the data regarding those treatment options, and a discussion of potential complications involved in each option.
The earliest work on SDM centered around patient choices for managing prostate disease, degenerative disc disease of the lumbar spine, and urinary incontinence. Only recently have orthopaedic surgeons embraced this concept, as more of us get training in and practice the necessary communication skills and cultural competency needed to engage our patients in SDM. But we still have a long way to go when it comes to facility with SDM, and this seems to be especially true in the orthopaedic communities of some non-US countries.
In the May 1, 2019 issue of The Journal, Martinez-Siekavizza et al. report results of a survey on the use of SDM among orthopaedic surgeons in Guatemala. Survey recipients were questioned about their SDM techniques in the clinical scenario of intertrochanteric hip fracture, although hip fracture may not have been the ideal condition to focus on, given the worldwide acceptance that this condition is almost always best managed surgically. Nevertheless, the survey showed that 25% of the surgeon respondents ”never” or “hardly ever” allowed their patients to participate in the treatment decision-making process. While the authors cite many systemic reasons for such lack of patient participation (such as surgical consent not being required in Guatemala and the limited resources in many rural areas of the country that often leave no choices available), 75% non-engagement with patients/families strikes me as very high.
The key facet of shared decision making is discussing all the potential treatment options with the patient. This aspect of SDM seems especially important for nontrauma elective cases in which the “best” treatment option may be less clear than in trauma cases. Even so, Martinez-Siekavizza et al. found that surgeons who discussed the different treatment options with patients had an almost 3-fold greater likelihood of allowing patients to participate in decision making than those who did not. This makes intuitive sense, as it would be difficult for patients to take part in treatment decisions if they are not informed about the options that exist.
As surgeons, we need to do our best to ensure that patients understand all their treatment options, and we should sharpen our focus on shared decision making during our patient interactions. JBJS looks forward to receiving more manuscripts from all over the world that explore the techniques and value of SDM in orthopaedic patient management.
Marc Swiontkowski, MD