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Ambulatory Shoulder Arthroplasty Is Safe

swiontkowski-marc-colorIn the April 19, 2017 issue of The Journal, Cancienne et al. compare complication and readmission rates for patients undergoing ambulatory shoulder arthroplasty with those among patients admitted as hospital inpatients postoperatively. Because the analysis was based on data from a large national insurer, we can be quite sure of appropriate coding and accurate data capture.

Similar to our recent report regarding outpatient hand and elbow surgery, in no instance were complications present at a significantly higher rate in the patients who underwent ambulatory shoulder arthroplasty, and the rate of hospital readmission after discharge was not significantly different at 30 or 90 days between the two cohorts.

This definitely is a tip of the hat to orthopaedic surgeons, nurses, and anesthesiologists, who are making sound decisions regarding which patients are appropriate for outpatient arthroplasty. Cancienne et al. found that obesity and morbid obesity were significant demographic risk factors for readmission among the ambulatory cohort, and they also identified the following comorbidities as readmission risk factors in that group:

  • Diabetes
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Depression
  • Chronic anemia

These results offer further documentation regarding the shift away from hospital-based care after orthopaedic surgery. Those of us who perform surgery in dedicated orthopaedic centers as well as general hospital operating rooms understand the concepts of efficiency, focus, maintenance of team skills, and limiting waste. Those objectives in large part drive the move to outpatient surgery. But patients, who almost always prefer to be at home and sleep in their own beds (or recliners in the case of shoulder replacement), may be an even more powerful driver of ambulatory care in the future.

Major advances in postoperative pain management are great enablers in this regard, and I believe the trend will continue. I envision a day when the only patients admitted to hospitals after orthopaedic surgery are those with unstable medical issues who potentially may need ICU care postoperatively.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

Unplanned Readmissions After Outpatient Hand and Elbow Surgery

swiontkowski-marc-colorIn the April 5, 2017 issue of The Journal, Noureldin et al. analyzed more than 14,000 procedures from the NSQIP database to determine the rate of unplanned 30-day readmission after outpatient surgical procedures of the hand and elbow. The 1.2% rate seems well within the range of acceptability, particularly because the more than 450 institutions contributing to this database probably serve populations who don’t have the best overall health and comorbidity profiles.

Missing causes for about one-third of the readmissions illustrate one issue with data accuracy in these large administrative datasets. While the authors acknowledged a “lack of granularity” as the greatest limitation in analyzing large databases, they added that the readmissions with no listed cause “were likely unrelated to the principal procedure.”

It was not surprising that infection was the most common cause for readmission. However, it would have been nice to know the rate of confirmed infection via positive cultures, as I suspect many of these patients were readmitted for erythema, swelling, warmth, and discomfort associated with postoperative hematoma rather than infection.

Regardless of the need for higher-quality data on complications following outpatient orthopaedic surgical procedures, this analysis gives us more confidence that the move toward outpatient surgical care in our specialty is warranted. I think most patients would rather sleep in their own home as long as preoperative comorbidities and ASA levels are considered and adequate postoperative pain control can be achieved in an outpatient setting. The trend toward outpatient orthopaedic treatment is likely to continue as we gather higher-quality data and better understand the risk-benefit profile.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

JBJS EST 2016 Editor’s Choice Awards

JBJS Essential Surgical Techniques (EST) is pleased to congratulate the winners of its two Editor’s Choice Awards for 2016:

The award for best technique article went to Austin T. Fragomen, MD and S. Robert Rozbruch, MD for Lengthening of the Femur with a Remote-Controlled Magnetic Intramedullary Nail.


The recipients of the best Key Procedures video award were Jesse D. Chlebeck, MD; Christopher E. Birch, MD; and Jennifer W. Lisle, MD for Percutaneous in Situ Fixation of Slipped Capital Femoral Epiphysis.


Click here to learn about the 2017 EST Editor’s Choice competition.

JBJS Editor’s Choice: Fracture-Care Progress in the Developing World

IM Nail Femur for O'Buzz.jpegIn the March 1, 2017 edition of The Journal, Eliezer et al. report on their experience managing femoral fractures in a major treatment center in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, one of many low-resource locations around the world.

The authors tracked one-year outcomes for 331 femoral fractures in 329 patients. The vast majority of those fractures were treated with intramedullary nails, with open reduction and without intraoperative imaging. The actual reoperation rate for nails was 3.4%, with infection being the most common reason for reoperation.

Eliezer et al. also found that the factors most strongly associated with reoperation were proximal fractures with varus coronal alignment, small nail diameter (8 mm vs larger diameters), and a Winquist type-3 fracture pattern (comminution that included 50% to 75% of the femoral shaft).

Road-traffic accidents are the major cause of disability and loss of work productivity in the developing world among the young, economically productive segments of society. Through the support of organizations like SIGN Fracture Care International, local surgeons in low-resource countries have been able to treat patients who’ve sustained diaphyseal long bone fractures safely and with good functional outcomes. Carefully conducted follow-up studies such as this one give data-driven reassurance to everyone who supports these efforts that surgery can be safely conducted with good patient outcomes.

Performing intramedullary fixation allows early weight bearing and joint motion to limit muscle atrophy and joint stiffness. As long as we can be assured that these procedures have acceptably low rates of reoperation and patient morbidity, we can more confidently encourage the expansion of these programs in the developing world. Organizations like SIGN deserve our support in this regard.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

JBJS Editor’s Choice—VTE Risk with Metastatic Skeletal Lesions: Fix Prophylactically or Not?

swiontkowski-marc-colorIn the February 15, 2017 issue of The Journal, Aneja et al. utilize a large administrative database to examine the critical question of venous thromboembolism (VTE)  risk as it relates to managing patients with metastatic femoral lesions. The authors found that prophylactic intramedullary (IM) nailing clearly resulted in a higher risk of both pulmonary embolism and deep-vein thrombosis, relative to IM nailing after a pathologic fracture.  Conversely, the study found that patients managed with fixation after a pathological fracture had greater need for blood transfusions, higher rates of postoperative urinary tract infections, and a decreased likelihood of being discharged to home.

The VTE findings make complete clinical sense, because when we ream an intact bone, the highly pressurized medullary canal forces coagulation factors into the peripheral circulation. When we ream after a fracture, the pressures are much lower, and neither the coagulation factors nor components of the metastatic lesion are forced into the peripheral circulation as efficiently, although some may partially escape through the fracture site.

One might conclude that we should never consider prophylactic fixation in the case of metastatic disease in long bones, but that would not be a patient-centric position to hold. In my opinion, the decision about whether to prophylactically internally fix an impending pathologic fracture should be based on patient symptoms and consultations with the patient’s oncologist and radiation therapist.

If all of the findings from Aneja et al. are considered, and if the patient’s symptoms are functionally limiting after initiation of appropriate radiation and chemotherapy, prophylactic fixation should be performed, along with vigilantly managed VTE-prevention measures. This study is ideally suited to inform these discussions for optimum patient care.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

JBJS Editor’s Choice: Sarcopenia + Acetabular Fracture = Increased Mortality

Sarcopenia CT.gifIn the February 1, 2017 edition of The Journal, Deren et al. provide an important analysis of muscle mass as it relates to mortality in older patients with an acetabular fracture. Among 99 fracture patients studied retrospectively, 42% had sarcopenia, defined in this study as a skeletal muscle index at the L3 vertebral body of <55.4 cm2/m2  for men and <38.5 cm2/m2  for women.

Deren et al. found that low BMI was associated with sarcopenia and that patients with sarcopenia were significantly more likely than patients without sarcopenia to sustain their skeletal injury from a low-energy mechanism. Sarcopenia was also associated with a higher risk of 1-year mortality, especially when in-hospital deaths were excluded. While the authors note that there’s no consensus definition for clinically diagnosing sarcopenia, they conclude that “sarcopenia based on the skeletal muscle index may be a better predictor of mortality than other commonly used classification

There are important subtextual messages in this study for all physicians who manage geriatric patients. Maintenance of muscle mass by resistance exercise (lifting weights, isometrics, etc.) is of critical importance in limiting fall risk and maintaining good balance and bone density. Dietary considerations are intertwined with exercise in maintaining muscle mass among older patients. Resistance training and cardio exercise help to maintain appetite, and adequate protein intake is of utmost importance. When families and medical teams work together, the risk of sarcopenia can be minimized, resulting in lower rates of falls, fewer low-energy fractures, and less mortality.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

JBJS Editor’s Choice: Biomechanics Alone or Biomechanics + UKA for Painful Varus Knees?

UKA vs PTO Survivorship.gifIn the January 18, 2017 issue of JBJS, Krych et al. report on early and mid-term results of the two most common surgical procedures to help patients 55 years old and younger with varus knees and medial compartment osteoarthritis: unicompartmental knee arthroplasty (UKA) and proximal tibial osteotomy (PTO). PTO realigns the knee’s biomechanics by moving the weight-bearing line laterally toward the more normal side of the knee. UKA corrects the biomechanical issue and removes and resurfaces damaged tissue.

In this comparative cohort study of 240 patients between 18 and 55 years old, patients receiving UKA had better functional scores and reached a higher activity level early after surgery. UKA survivorship (defined as avoiding revision to total knee arthroplasty [TKA]) was 94% at an average of 5.8 years, while PTO survivorship was 77% at an average of 7.2 years.

The functional outcomes should come as no surprise, seeing as arthroplasty replaces/denervates the subchondral bone in the medial compartment, while also correcting the alignment issue. A reasonable trauma-related analog to this can be seen with total hip arthroplasty providing generally better functional outcomes for displaced femoral neck fractures than internal fixation because the latter approach does not anatomically restore hip biomechanics. In both those cases, the mechanics of a weight-bearing joint are maintained/improved without relying on bone to heal. In contrast, with PTO and other bone and joint “preservation” approaches, the natural mechanics are altered.

However, I do not think we should extend this argument beyond what these data from Krych et al. provide. The mean length of follow-up in the UKA group was only 5.8 years. We need 20- to 30-year results in that group so we can truly understand the risk of further arthroplasty revision, polyethylene replacement, periprosthetic fracture, etc. I therefore truly hope to see follow-up reporting in a decade on this cohort of patients.

We must also recognize that these patients were selected for a surgical intervention based on their functional demand. The baseline characteristics of both groups suggest that those who had higher loading “habits” received an osteotomy.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

JBJS Editor’s Choice: How Best to Treat Femoral Neck Fractures in Younger Adults

ORIF or THA for Femoral Neck Fx.gifIn the January 4, 2017 issue of The Journal, Swart et al. provide a well-done Markov decision analysis on the cost effectiveness of three treatment options for femoral neck fractures in patients between the age of 40 and 65: open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF), total hip arthroplasty (THA), and hemiarthroplasty. Plugging the best data available from the current orthopaedic literature into their model, the authors estimated the threshold age above which THA would be the superior strategy in this relatively young population.

For patients in this age group, traditional thinking has been to perform ORIF in order to “save” the patient’s native hip and avoid the likelihood of later revision arthroplasty. However, in this analysis THA emerges as a cost-effective option in otherwise healthy patients >54 years old, in patients >47 years old with mild comorbidity, and in patients >44 years old with multiple comorbidities.

On average, both THA and ORIF have similar outcomes across the age range analyzed. But ORIF with successful fracture healing yields slightly better outcomes and considerably lower costs than THA, whereas patients whose fracture does not heal with ORIF have notably worse outcomes than THA patients. This finding supports my personal bias that anatomical reduction and biomechanically sound fixation must be achieved in this younger population with displaced femoral neck fractures. The analysis confirmed that, because of poor functional outcomes with hemiarthroplasty in this population, hemiarthroplasty should not be considered. Poor hemiarthroplasty outcomes are likely related to the mismatch between the metal femoral head and the native acetabular cartilage, leading to fairly rapid loss of the articular cartilage and subsequent need for revision.

This analysis by Swart et al. provides very valuable data to discuss with younger patients and families when engaging in shared decision making about treating an acute femoral neck fracture. In my experience, most patients in this age group prefer to “keep” their own hip whenever possible, which puts the onus on the surgeon to gain anatomic reduction and biomechanically sound fixation with ORIF.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

JBJS Reviews Editor’s Choice–Outpatient Joint Replacement?

knee-spotlight-image.png“Necessity is the mother of invention.” In recent years, the demand for total hip, total knee, and unicompartmental knee arthroplasty has grown substantially. However, with limited resources and health-care budgets, there is a need to reduce hospital costs. To that end, a number of surgeons have begun to perform these procedures on an outpatient basis.

Indeed, as the demand for joint replacements grows, it will be imperative to improve patient safety and satisfaction while minimizing costs and optimizing the use of health-care resources. In order to accomplish this goal, surgical teams, nursing staff, and physiotherapists will need to work together to discharge patients from the hospital as soon as safely possible, including on the same day as the operation. The development of accelerated clinical pathways featuring a multidisciplinary approach and involving a range of health-care professionals will result in extensive preoperative patient education, early mobilization, and intensive physical therapy.

In the December 2016 issue of JBJS Reviews, Pollock et al. report on a systematic review that was performed to determine the safety and feasibility of outpatient total hip, total knee, and unicompartmental knee arthroplasty. The authors hypothesized that outpatient arthroplasty would be safe and feasible and that there would be similar complication rates, similar readmission and revision rates, similar clinical outcomes, and decreased costs in comparison with the findings associated with the inpatient procedure. The investigators demonstrated that, in selective patients, outpatient total hip, total knee, and unicompartmental knee arthroplasty can be performed safely and effectively.

A major caveat of this well-conducted study, however, is that, like any systematic review, its overall quality is based on the quality of the individual studies that make up the analysis. In this case, the studies included those that lacked sufficient internal validity, sample size, methodological consistency, and standardization of protocols and outcomes. Thus, going forward, there is a need for more rigorous and adequately powered randomized trials to definitively establish the safety, efficacy, and feasibility of outpatient hip and knee arthroplasty.

Thomas A. Einhorn, MD
Editor, JBJS Reviews

JBJS Editor’s Choice: Advances in Ankle Replacement

Salto Talaris.gifWe have entered an era where total ankle arthroplasty (TAA) is accepted as a rational approach for patients with degenerative arthritis of the ankle. TAA results have been shown to be an improvement over arthrodesis in some recent comparative trials.

That was not always the case, however. In the 1980s, the orthopaedic community attacked ankle joint replacement with gusto, and numerous prosthetic designs were introduced with great enthusiasm based on short-term cohort studies. Unfortunately, the concept of TAA was all but buried as disappointing longer-term results with those older prosthetic designs appeared in the scientific literature. It took a full decade for new designs to appear and be subjected to longer-term follow-up studies before surgeons could gain ready access to more reliable instrumentation and prostheses. The producers of these implants behaved responsibly in this regard, facilitated by an FDA approval process that had increased in rigor.

In the December 21, 2016 issue of The Journal, Hofmann et al. publish their medium-term results with one prosthetic design that was FDA-approved in 2006.  Implant survival among 81 consecutive TAAs was 97.5% at a mean follow-up of 5.2 years. There were only 4 cases of aseptic loosening and no deep infections in the cohort. Total range of motion increased from 35.5° preoperatively to 39.9° postoperatively.

The fact that a high percentage (44%) of ankles underwent a concomitant procedure at the time of TAA attests to the need for careful preoperative planning for alignment of the ankle joint and the need for thorough assessment of the hindfoot. The fact that a substantial percentage (21%) of ankles underwent another procedure after the TAA attests to the need for thoughtful benefit-risk conversations with patients prior to TAA.

I think the TAA concept and procedure are here to stay, but we still have much work to do in fine-tuning prosthetic designs and instrumentation and enhancing surgeon education for more reliable outcomes.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief