Why Are Some Patients Unhappy after “Successful” Repair of Shoulder Instability?
It has been estimated that 13% to 16% of patients who undergo arthroscopic stabilization procedures for recurrent shoulder instability are dissatisfied with their outcome, despite a technically “successful” operation. Similarly high rates of patient dissatisfaction in the face of an objectively “well-done” surgery are pervasive in most orthopaedic subspecialties and often leave both surgeon and patient frustrated and perplexed. Prior research has suggested that patient expectations, psychological characteristics, and socioeconomic factors play a major role in these cases of patient dissatisfaction. But identifying precise patient or injury factors that can alert surgeons as to which patients may be unsatisfied after their procedure has remained elusive for many common injuries.
In the June 19, 2019 issue of The Journal, Park et al. examine the bases for patient dissatisfaction after arthroscopic Bankart repair (with or without remplissage) for recurrent shoulder instability. Not surprisingly, patient age, size of the glenoid bone defect, and the number of patient postoperative instability events correlated with an objective failure of the operation (i.e., instability requiring a repeat operation). However, the study found that the number of instability events and the preoperative width of the Hill-Sachs lesion correlated with the subjective failure of the operation (i.e., the patient was dissatisfied based on response to a single question about “overall function” 2 years after surgery). For the 14 out of 180 patients who were dissatisfied despite not experiencing a revision, intermittent pain plus psychological characteristics such as apprehension and anxiety about recurrent instability were common reasons for dissatisfaction.
It is becoming clearer with each passing year that simply correcting anatomic pathologies does not always result in happy patients. Orthopaedic surgeons need to employ patient interviewing techniques to identify issues such as anxiety, depression, pain-perception concerns, and substance abuse—all of which can negatively influence the degree of patient satisfaction with the result and are somewhat modifiable preoperatively.
Marc Swiontkowski, MD