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Does Computer-Assisted Surgery Drive Better TKA Outcomes?

Computer-assisted surgery (CAS) for total knee arthroplasty (TKA) has become popular largely based on claims that the technology improves accuracy of component positioning and alignment. Theoretically, that leads to superior patient-reported outcomes. However, the use of CSA has not reliably yielded improvements in implant survival or clinical outcomes. A large registry study by Roberts et al. in the April 1, 2020 issue of The Journal sheds additional light on this perplexing question.

An earlier study by the same author group used data from the same New Zealand Joint Registry and showed no difference in functional outcomes or implant survival between TKAs performed with and without CAS.1 However, that study did not account for the potential bias introduced by surgeons who use CAS only for complex cases.

In this study, Roberts et al. analyzed data from 2 carefully selected groups of surgeons: those who used CAS in 90% of their TKAs (“routine CAS” surgeons) and those who used CAS in <10% of their TKAs (“routine conventional” surgeons). Further limiting their analysis to surgeons with >50 TKAs recorded in the registry between 2006 and 2018, Roberts et al. identified 25 “routine CAS” surgeons and 22 “routine conventional” surgeons. This allowed a comparison between 9,501 TKAs performed by routine CAS surgeons and 7,672 TKAs performed by routine conventional surgeons.  While analyzing revision rates and Oxford Knee Scores (OKS) at 6 months, 5 years, and 10 years, the authors also controlled for confounding variables such as age, body-mass index, and implant type.

With a mean follow-up of 4.5 years, the authors found a revision rate per 100 component-years of 0.437 in the group operated on by routine CAS surgeons, compared to a mean 4.9-year revision rate of 0.440 in the group operated on by routine conventional surgeons (p=0.724).  When stratifying outcomes of patients <65 years old, the authors again found no statistical difference in revision rates. They also found no between-group differences in OKS within the full and <65 cohorts at 6 months, 5 years, or 10 years.

The findings prompt the authors (and I) to wonder whether continually improving design and durability of modern implants make it difficult to discern any advantage from computer assistance in implant positioning.

Matthew R. Schmitz, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media

Reference

  1. Roberts TD, Clatworthy MG, Frampton CM, Young SW. Does computer assisted navigation improve functional outcomes and implant survivability after total knee arthroplasty? J Arthroplasty. 2015 Sep; 30(9)Suppl: 59-63.

Subtalar Joint Compensation after Ankle Fusion

Ankle fusion continues to be a predictable treatment for degenerative tibiotalar arthritis. It improves both pain and function from primary osteoarthritis and degeneration related to chronic instability or trauma. JBJS has published several recent studies demonstrating that the outcomes of fusion compare favorably with those of total ankle replacement, particularly in higher-demand patients. (See, for example, Effectiveness and Safety of Ankle Arthrodesis Versus Arthroplasty and Outcomes of Total Ankle Replacement, Arthroscopic Ankle Arthrodesis, and Open Ankle Arthrodesis for Isolated Non-Deformed End-Stage Ankle Arthritis.)

Many clinicians have wondered why outcomes after ankle arthrodesis are typically so much better than those after arthrodesis of other mobile joints. In the April 1, 2020 issue of The Journal, Lenz et al. provide an answer. Using dual fluoroscopy integrated with 3-D CT, the authors compared the subtalar motion of the surgically fused ankle in 10 patients with the motion of the untreated, asymptomatic side. The findings strongly suggest that compensatory increased plantar flexion of the subtalar joint allows improved function following successful arthrodesis. The authors found that this increased motion occurred during both normal plantigrade ambulation and bilateral heel raises.

Clinicians can use this important information to explain to patients who are deciding between ankle arthrodesis and arthroplasty how fusion can not only improve pain, but can also result in good functional range of motion. On the other hand, the authors surmise that the compensatory increase in subtalar joint plantar flexion may explain the reported increased risk of future subtalar osteoarthritis in surgically fused ankles. However, to answer that question, we’ll need larger, longitudinal clinical studies that evaluate the relationship between the compensatory post-fusion subtalar kinematics discovered by Lenz et al. and radiographic findings and patient-reported pain and function.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

Displaced Proximal Humeral Fractures: Fix or Replace?

Nonoperative management of proximal humerus fractures in the elderly used to be fairly common, but multiple studies have shown poor outcomes. Open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) with locked-plate constructs has shown some promise, but it has been fraught with complications. Most recently, reverse total shoulder arthroplasty (rTSA) has emerged as a possible surgical solution, but this is a complicated procedure, and questions have arisen about long-term outcomes.  Compounding this conundrum are the varying degrees of severity of proximal humeral fractures.

In the March 18, 2020 issue of The Journal, Fraser et al. share 2-year results from a multicenter, single-blinded randomized trial that compared rTSA to ORIF for severely displaced proximal humeral fractures in patients 65 to 85 years of age. Included patients (n=124) had OTA/AO 11-B2 or 11-C2 fractures with >45° valgus or >30° varus in the anteroposterior view, or >50% displacement of the humeral head. Using the Constant shoulder score as the primary outcome measure, the authors demonstrated both a statistically significant and clinically meaningful difference favoring rTSA in this cohort.

The mean Constant score was 68.0 points for the rTSA group compared to 54.6 points for the ORIF group. The mean between-group difference, 13.4 points, was significant (p<0.001) and exceeded the minimal clinically important difference of 10 points.  The Constant-score difference between ORIF and rTSA was most pronounced (18.7 points) in patients with C2 fractures, but there was no significant score difference in those with B2 fractures. Secondary outcomes (Oxford Shoulder Scores) showed a consistent trend of the rTSA group scoring higher than the ORIF group at 2 years.

Although this study indicates an advantage for rTSA, one must consider that only severely displaced fractures were investigated and that 2-year follow-up for joint arthroplasty is considered short term. In a Commentary about this article, Peter A. Cole, MD points out that “if there was a 25% revision rate for reverse TSA at 5 to 10 years, then the superior results would be reversed, and we would be reinventing another wheel in orthopaedics.”

Clearly, longer-term studies in this population are a necessity, and Fraser et al. say they plan to follow these patients in 5-year intervals.

Matthew R. Schmitz, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media

THA in the Very Young: Midterm Results

Orthopaedic surgeons work hard to find good alternatives to total hip arthroplasty (THA) in patients <50 years old. That’s because the high functional demands and longer remaining lifespan in these patients can result in excessive wear of the bearing surfaces and loosening of the components—both of which have been documented in multiple publications. But what happens when THA is the most viable solution for a posttraumatic or congenital hip problem in a very young patient because arthrodesis or other osteotomies are not feasible?

In the March 18, 2020 issue of The Journal, Pallante et al. report medium-term outcomes of THA in 78 patients who were ≤20 years of age at the time of surgery, with follow-ups ranging from 2 to 18 years. The findings included the following:

  • 10-year survivorship for reoperation of 95.0%
  • 10-year survivorship for revision of 97.2%
  • 10-year survivorship for complications of 89.5%

Overall, the linear articular wear averaged 0.019 mm/yr in the ceramic-on-ceramic, ceramic-on-highly cross-linked polyethylene, and metal-on-highly cross-linked polyethylene bearings studied, and the average modified Harris hip score in the cohort was 92.

However, despite these impressive clinical and survivorship outcomes, I advise orthopaedists not to lower their resistance to performing THA on these very young patients, many of whom present with hip problems caused by deforming conditions such as Legg-Calve-Perthes disease. We really need 30 to 40 years of outcome data to truly  understand what happens with function, revision rates, and wear characteristics in this population. Having said that, I am confident that this group from Mayo will continue reporting on this patient cohort at 5- to 10-year intervals, so that the worldwide orthopaedic community can keep learning from this experience.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

Are Tantalum Hip Implants Safe?

I have been told that daytime TV is punctuated by a continual stream of ads for personal-injury lawyers asking if you have been injured by a particular medication or medical device.  Since 2002, billions of dollars have been paid out in lawsuits over metal-on-metal hip replacements containing cobalt and/or chromium, the “loose” ions of which increase the risk for aseptic lymphocyte-dominated vasculitis-associated lesions (ALVAL)—which are sometimes referred to as “pseudotumors.” So orthopaedic surgeons understandably want to know more about the potential long-term implications of newer metal technologies such as tantalum.

“Trabecular Metal” is a trade name for tantalum-based bone-ingrowth material that is now quite common in acetabular cups and revision shells used for total hip arthroplasty (THA). In the March 4, 2020 issue of the The Journal, Brüggemann et al. investigated the safety of these tantalum components. They retrospectively reviewed blood tantalum levels in 30 patients who underwent primary THA with no tantalum components, 30 patients who received a tantalum cup during a primary THA, and 84 patients who received a tantalum shell during a revision. Tantalum levels in 59 blood-donor volunteers served as controls. The authors also measured subsets of lymphocytes (CD8+ and CD4+ T-cells) that are thought to be associated with the immunologic cascade causing ALVAL.

At an average follow-up of 4 years, Brüggemann et al. found that median tantalum concentrations were 0.051 µg/L  in those receiving primary tantalum implants and 0.05 µg/L in those receiving primary implants without tantalum. (The “detection limit” for tantalum used in this study was 0.05 µg/L.) Patients receiving revision tantalum shells had median serum tantalum levels of 0.091 µg/L.  Time since surgery did not affect tantalum levels.

The authors also found a weak negative correlation between increased tantalum concentration and lower concentrations of CD8+ T-cells. Clinically, none of the hips in this series was deemed loose, and the Harris hip scores among all subjects were good to excellent.

It seems that with stable tantalum implants, any increase in serum concentrations of tantalum is small, but we don’t yet know the longer-term implications of these small increases. While it’s also reassuring that the lymphocyte activation associated with ALVAL does not seem to occur with these tantalum implants, I agree with the authors’ conclusion that this study “cannot exclude the possibility that even low tantalum concentrations confer a risk to patients’ health.”  Clearly, longer-term studies are needed.

Matthew R. Schmitz, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media

Implant Prices are Main Cost Driver in Joint Replacements

Orthopaedic surgeons have long been aware of the role that implant prices play in the total cost of care for arthroplasty procedures, but methodical breakdowns of implant costs in relation to the cost of other aspects of care have generally been lacking. In the March 4, 2020 issue of The Journal, Carducci et al. detail the impact of implant costs on the total cost of care in a study of 6 lower- and upper-extremity arthroplasty types performed at a single, high-volume orthopaedic specialty hospital.

Using a uniform method called time-driven activity-based costing, the authors calculated the total costs of >22,200 inpatient primary total joint arthroplasties, and then broke down those total costs by categories, including implant price and personnel costs. It was no surprise that, as a percentage of total cost, implant costs were highest for low-volume surgeries (as high as 65% for total ankle arthroplasty) and lowest for high-volume procedures (e.g., 40% for total knee arthroplasty). Nevertheless, across the board, implant price was the most expensive component of total cost.

Implant prices are individually negotiated between a hospital and an implant supplier and are usually protected by nondisclosure agreements, so the data from this investigation may not match up with data from any other institution. Unfortunately, the future of implant-cost research will be tied to the complex issue of return-on-investment for implant-manufacturer stockholders as it relates to negotiations with individual hospitals and health systems.

The profound impact of implant price on the total cost of all the joint arthroplasties studied by Carducci et al. also begs the questions as to how “generic” implants (those not manufactured by the major orthopaedic producers) will ultimately influence the market—and whether “branded” implants, with their 30% to 50% markups, provide any functional benefit for patients. We will need further well-designed research to address those questions.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

So Far, Bundled Payments Not Affecting Patient Selection for Joint Replacement

Many people predicted that the mandatory “bundling” of payments for knee and hip arthroplasty by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that began on April 1, 2016 in several US metropolitan areas would lead to  “cherry-picking” and ”lemon-dropping.” In other words, hospitals and surgeons wouldn’t take on more complex and sicker patients for joint replacement for fear that the bundled payment would be insufficient (lemon-dropping), and would instead select the healthier patients (cherry-picking). See related OrthoBuzz post.

In the February 19, 2020 issue of The Journal, Humbyrd et al. compare the characteristics of patients who underwent hip and knee replacement (HKR) from April to December 2015 with those of HKR patients during the same period in 2016, after CMS mandated the bundled-payment program in 67 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). The patients were matched so that those treated in bundled and non-bundled settings had similar socioeconomic backgrounds.

The matched groups included 12,388 HKR episodes in 40 bundled MSAs and 20,288 HKRs in 115 nonbundled MSAs. The authors also evaluated pre- and post-policy case-mix changes among 1,549 hip hemiarthroplasties, which are not subject to bundling, in the bundled MSAs.

Among patients who underwent HKR, Humbyrd et al. found no significant differences in patient characteristics—including race, dual Medicare-Medicaid eligibility, tobacco use, obesity, diabetes, and Charlson Comorbidity Index (CCI)—after the bundled-payment policy was implemented. Also, they found that patients in bundled MSAs undergoing hemiarthroplasty had significantly higher CCI values and were more likely to have diabetes than those who underwent HKR. This suggests that some surgeons opt for hemiarthroplasty over total hip replacement in less-healthy patients to avoid treating such patients under a bundled program.

From the MSA perspective, these results suggest that cherry picking and lemon dropping are not occurring in the short term. But we would do well as a profession to ensure that those controversial patient-selection practices are not happening at the individual surgeon level, and that the short-term results demonstrated here by Humbyrd et al. persist over the longer term. Even our sickest joint replacement patients deserve the best surgical care.

Matthew R. Schmitz, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media

MRI Can Detect “Invisible” Femoral Neck Fractures in Patients with Shaft Fractures

For more than 40 years, orthopaedic trauma surgeons have been interested in this fairly common fracture combination, which is often seen in polytrauma patients. We have long hypothesized that much of the energy that fractures the femoral shaft is dissipated, leaving many ipsilateral neck fractures nondisplaced and difficult to recognize on plain radiographs.

But the consequences of missing a femoral neck fracture can be devastating. For example, because the neck fracture pattern is often vertical (Pauwels type III), the risk of displacing the neck fracture during intramedullary nailing is very high. Achieving reduction and fixation of a displaced neck fracture near an intramedullary nail—either intraoperatively or postoperatively—is extremely challenging.

Because of these issues, some authors recommend a thin-cut CT series to identify nondisplaced ipsilateral neck fractures preoperatively, and this protocol has been shown to significantly reduce the delay in identifying such fractures. In the February 19, 2020 issue of The Journal, Rogers et al. from UTHealth in Houston show that even with thin-cut CT, the crack can be missed. These authors added to the protocol limited-sequence MRI that identifies these fractures with very high sensitivity and takes <10 minutes to perform.

In this study, among 39 acute, high-energy femoral shaft fractures, the authors identified 4 ipsilateral neck fractures with MRI that were not seen on CT. Despite exhibiting polytrauma, 89% of all indicated patients in this study were evaluated preoperatively with the limited-sequence MRI protocol, including those in traction and those treated initially with external fixation.

The findings from this study should prompt trauma surgeons practicing in high-volume centers to develop similar MRI protocols. It may also be possible to develop such protocols in lower-volume centers, but in those settings it is especially incumbent on the surgical team to recognize that this fracture combination occurs in a fairly high percentage of cases and to carefully scrutinize plain radiographs and consider thin-cut CT scanning of the ipsilateral hip. In addition, the potential for an ipsilateral nondisplaced femoral neck fracture should trigger increased use of fluoroscopy during intramedullary nailing of shaft fractures, so that concomitant neck fractures can be recognized and stabilized with screws before they become displaced.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

More Work, Less Pay for Revision TKAs

Time is a valuable commodity for everyone. Most physicians have spent long hours in the clinic or hospital, away from our families, sometimes missing important life events. We accept those aspects of our chosen profession. But everyone, including surgeons, wants to be appropriately reimbursed for their time. It’s logical that more complex surgical cases take more time to perform correctly and safely. But does Medicare (and the private insurers who base their physician payments on Medicare rates) adequately reimburse for that extra time?

The short answer is “no,” at least in terms of revision surgery for infected total knee arthroplasties (TKAs). Samuel et al. tackle that topic in the February 5, 2020 issue of The Journal. The authors reviewed records from the NSQIP database to identify cases of aseptic revision TKA, 1-stage septic revision TKA, and 2-stage septic revision TKA. Using propensity-score matching that controlled for age, sex, race, BMI, and ASA classification, the authors established 4 cohorts that allowed for comparison of the following types of revision TKA:

  • 1-stage, 2-component aseptic revisions (n=1,096)
  • 1 stage, 2-component septic revisions (n=274)
  • First stage of a 2-stage septic revision (n=274)
  • Second stage of a 2-stage septic revision (n=274)

The authors then compared the relative value units (RVUs) for each type of revision TKA. (Medicare uses RVU-based algorithms to reimburse physicians for their services.) The authors also identified operative times for the surgery types and made RVU-per-minute and dollars-per-minute calculations.

The mean operative times were statistically different between each cohort (149 minutes for the aseptic group, 160 minutes for the 1-stage septic group, 138 minutes for the first-stage of the 2-stage septic group, and 170 minutes for the second-stage of the 2-stage septic group). The dollar-per-minute calculation in the “easiest case” of aseptic revision was $7.74 per minute, while in the “hardest case” of a 2-stage septic revision, reimbursement was $5.66 per minute for the first stage and $5.19 per minute for the second stage.

The fact that Medicare’s current reimbursement system does not account for the complexity of treating an infected TKA harms not only surgeons. Financially discouraging physicians from taking complex cases could lead to patients having a difficult time finding a doctor to treat their infected knee replacement. This entire predicament warrants further investigation, possible adjustments to the RVU system, and more realistic valuations of time in the OR.

Matthew R. Schmitz, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media

Not All Modes in Multimodal Pain Management are Effective

The public health crisis attributed to opioids has placed increasing emphasis on other approaches to pain management, both pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic. Although some people find the term “multimodal pain management” to be ambiguous when used in clinical research or patient care, it emphasizes the need for a broader (and multidisciplinary) approach to pain management.

On the pharmacologic side, pregabalin has been found to be a variably effective adjunctive analgesic in research involving joint arthroplasty. However, its use in adolescents and children has not been adequately explored. In the February 5, 2020 issue of The Journal, Helenius et al. investigate the impact of pregabalin on total opioid consumption and pain scores in a randomized, placebo-controlled trial of 63 adolescents undergoing posterior instrumented spinal-fusion procedures. These operations are quite invasive and often result in ICU admission because of the amount of narcotics required. In this study, induction and maintenance of anesthesia and mobilization protocols were standardized for patients in both the pregabalin and placebo groups, and the authors precisely measured opioid consumption during the first 48 hours after surgery with data from patient-controlled anesthesia systems.

According to the findings from this adequately powered trial, adjunctive pregabalin did not have a positive impact on opioid consumption or postoperative pain scores. Despite these negative findings, it is my hope that this drug and others being investigated as adjunctive “modes” in multimodal pain management will be subjected to similarly designed trials, so we can accurately determine which agents work best in limiting opioid utilization.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief