We recently celebrated Veteran’s Day with the annual tradition of rightfully honoring the men and women who have served in the Armed Forces. After their active duty ends, servicemembers are eligible for care in Veterans Health Administration (VHA) hospitals around the nation. The VHA is a “closed” medical system that affords ample opportunity for population-based research.
In the November 18, 2020 issue of The Journal, Bendich et al. utilized VHA data to compare revision rates after primary total knee arthroplasty (TKA) among veterans treated with antibiotic-laden bone cement (ALBC) or plain cement. Although results of similarly designed studies focused on this question have been equivocal, antibiotic-laden cement seems to be especially effective at preventing infection in higher-risk populations, which is what the US veteran population is considered to be.
The researchers identified 15,972 primary TKAs that were implanted using Palacos bone cement between 2007 and 2015. Approximately 70% (11,231) of those cases used cement mixed with gentamicin, while 30% (4,741) utilized plain bone cement. The authors found similar patient demographics among patients treated with ALBC and those treated with plain cement, but ALBC was used more frequently in patients with higher comorbidity scores.
Overall, utilization of ALBC increased from 50.6% of the cases in 2007 to 69.4% in 2015. At a follow-up of 5 years, ALBC TKAs had a lower all-cause revision rate (5.3%) than plain-cement TKAs (6.7%) and a lower rate of revision for infection (1.9% compared to 2.6%). Even after multivariable adjustments to account for patient, surgical, and hospital factors, these revision-rate differences remained.
Bendich et al. also found that 71 TKAs needed to be implanted with ALBC to avoid 1 revision TKA. With a cost differential of $240 per case for ALBC, I think spending $17,040 ($240 × 71) is more cost-effective than 1 revision TKA, although a formal cost analysis is warranted.
In the interest of full disclosure, as an active-duty US Air Force officer, I am inherently biased, but I feel that no cost is too great to improve the health of our veterans. The authors review arguments against using ALBC, such as a theoretical risk of poor cement mechanical properties and systemic toxicity, but the findings of this study suggest that cement with antibiotics enhances treatment outcomes among these US heroes.
Click here to view the “Author Insight” interview about this study with co-author Alfred Kuo, MD, PhD.
Matthew R. Schmitz, MD
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