European investigators recently reported on a trial comparing the efficacy of pharmaceutical-grade chondroitin sulfate (CS) (800 mg/day) with the NSAID celecoxib (CX) (200 mg/day) and placebo in more than 600 patients with painful knee osteoarthritis (OA).
In this well-designed, well-executed, double-blinded, 3-armed trial, investigators tracked patient pain scores at baseline and at 1-month, 3-month and 6-month intervals. This trial was characterized by strict adherence to blinded protocols, high levels of patient adherence, and meticulous review of patient diaries and adverse-event reports.
Patients in both the CS and CX groups experienced significantly greater pain relief when compared to those in the placebo group at every follow-up time point. In addition to tracking pain via the visual analogue scale (VAS), the investigators included the Lequesene index (LI)—which integrates both pain and function—along with the Minimal-Clinically Important Improvement (MCII) scale. While CX and CS were not superior/inferior to one another, both active treatments provided significant pain improvements relative to placebo according to all three measurements at all time points.
These findings showing the efficacy of pharmaceutical-grade CS are important for orthopaedic surgeons, rheumatologists, and general practitioners. Nonoperative management of knee OA remains an important modality that requires a multimodal approach, typically including NSAIDs and/or acetaminophen. These results suggest that there’s another safe medication that may prove especially helpful for OA patients who cannot tolerate NSAIDs or acetaminophen due to kidney, gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, and/or liver issues.
Richard Yoon, MD is a fellow in orthopaedic traumatology and complex adult reconstruction at Orlando Regional Medical Center.
OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from Jason Weisstein, MD, MPH, FACS.
MIPS—the Merit-based Incentive Payment System—is still a mystery to many orthopaedic surgeons. But it can have a big positive or negative impact on your practice.
MIPS is a federal improvement-incentive program consisting of Quality, Resource Use, Clinical Practice Improvement, and Advancing Care components. To demonstrate excellent performance (and reap the associated rewards), physicians can choose the activities and measures that are most meaningful for their practice. Weights are assigned to each category based on a 1 to 100 point scale. In 2017, the transition year, weights are as follows: Quality-60 percent, Cost-0 percent, Improvement Activities-15 percent and Advancing Care Information-25 percent.
I often hear a lot of grumbling from colleagues about their electronic health record (EHR) systems as one of the major causes of physician burnout. However, implementing the right technology will help you excel under this new reimbursement model.
Here are 9 MIPS tips related to EHRs:
- Choose the Quality benchmarks that best fit your practice. You need at least 20 eligible cases per Quality measure. Go to the CMS website and select benchmarks that have established measures.
- Report Quality for an entire year or over 90 days.
- Make sure your EHR has built-in dashboards that enable you to keep an eye on your composite score in near real-time, from day to day.
- Be sure that the EHR you select captures data being entered at the point of care and can enable this data to be used for multiple purposes.
- Get a head start on the Advancing Care component. Selecting an EHR vendor with successful Meaningful Use (MU) attestations is critical.
- Earn bonus points via specialty registries and Clinical Improvement Activities.
- Make sure your EHR allows you to compare your performance with that of your peers using analytical tools.
- When engaging in Clinical Improvement Activities, follow guidelines based on your specific practice size.
- Submit only the required number of Clinical Improvement Activities for the given measurement year, because the following year, you may need to pick a different activity.
With the shift to MIPS and value-based care, orthopaedic surgeons and their teams can thrive by adapting and utilizing technology that fits within their workflows and that helps them understand how they are performing in real time, both within their own practices and compared with their peers nationwide.
Jason Weisstein, MD, MPH, FACS is the Medical Director of Orthopedics at Modernizing Medicine.
OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from E. Scott Paxton, MD, in response to a recent “Rapid Recommendation” in The BMJ.
An international panel convened by The BMJ recently issued a “Rapid Recommendation” that strongly recommends against using low-intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS) in patients with fracture or osteotomy because the treatment doesn’t improve functional recovery or pain.1
The systematic review on which the recommendation was based reviewed 26 trials of nearly 1600 patients with fracture or osteotomy who were randomized to either LIPUS or sham/no device.2 The authors concluded with moderate to high levels of certainty that the treatment had little effect on the time patients could return to work, time to full weight-bearing activity, pain levels, future operations, or time to radiographic healing.
In 2009, Busse et al. performed a similar meta-analysis, concluding that “evidence for the effect of low intensity pulsed ultrasonography on healing of fractures is moderate to very low in quality and provides conflicting results.”3 This analysis only included 13 trials, however. Then, in 2016, Busse et al. published results from the TRUST study,4 a blinded, randomized controlled trial of 501 patients from 43 North American academic trauma centers who had a fresh tibial shaft fracture treated with intramedullary nailing. The authors based their sample size calculations on the minimal clinically important difference on the SF-36 PCS, as this was a co-primary outcome. The authors found no improvement in radiographic healing time or functional recovery with the use of LIPUS. However, the authors noted that only 1 nonunion occurred among 195 sham-treated patients, demonstrating that this group was at extremely low risk for nonunion at baseline.
Including the TRUST trial in the 2017 meta-analysis of LIPUS led Schandelmaier et al. to the aforementioned conclusions and informed the strong BMJ Rapid Recommendation against the use of LIPUS for patients with any bone fracture or osteotomy. However, this recommendation was based in large part on the TRUST trial, which was unable to directly assess the effectiveness of LIPUS on reducing nonunion rates because of the almost universal healing of the fractures studied.
The BMJ Rapid Recommendation states “there was high quality evidence showing a lack of benefit in accelerating healing for fresh fractures; thus it is unlikely that LIPUS would improve outcomes in patients with non-union.” However, the effect of LIPUS on preventing nonunions in fractures known to have high nonunion rates or on treating established nonunions will require further high-quality studies looking at those patients specifically.
Scott Paxton, MD is an assistant professor in the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University and a fellowship-trained shoulder and elbow surgeon at University Orthopedics in Providence, Rhode Island.
- Poolman RW, Agoritsas T, Siemieniuk RAC, et al. Low intensity pulsed ultrasound (LIPUS) for bone healing: a clinical practice guideline. BMJ. February 2017:j576-j576. doi:10.1136/bmj.j576.
- Schandelmaier S, Kaushal A, Lytvyn L, et al. Low intensity pulsed ultrasound for bone healing: systematic review of randomized controlled trials. BMJ. 2017;356:j656. doi:10.1136/bmj.j656.
- Busse JW, Kaur J, Mollon B, et al. Low intensity pulsed ultrasonography for fractures: systematic review of randomised controlled trials. BMJ. 2009;338:b351. doi:10.1136/bmj.b351.
- TRUST Investigators writing group, Busse JW, Bhandari M, et al. Re-evaluation of low intensity pulsed ultrasound in treatment of tibial fractures (TRUST): randomized clinical trial. BMJ. 2016;355:i5351. doi:10.1136/bmj.i5351.
OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from Chad Krueger, MD, in response to a recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine.
Few disease processes are as prevalent within the United States as hip and knee osteoarthritis (OA). While OA is commonly thought to be a disease of older age, the reality is that over half of all individuals with knee arthritis are younger than 65. While some of those individuals will eventually go on to have a knee arthroplasty, before that, most OA patients try various other treatments in an effort to decrease pain and increase function. Medications such as NSAIDs and others are certainly a part of these treatment efforts, but nonpharmacologic treatments are also widely recommended.
However, as Bennell et al. clearly state in their Annals article, patients face multiple barriers to the implementation of these nonoperative, nonpharmacologic modalities, including cost and transportation to relevant clinical specialists. The authors used these barriers as the rationale for a randomized trial in which an intervention group of knee OA patients received Internet-based educational material, online pain-coping skills training, and videoconferencing with a physiotherapist who provided individualized exercises for each patient. A control group received only the educational material.
At 3 and 9 months, both groups showed improvements in pain and function, but the intervention group had significantly greater improvements than the control group. More importantly, the people in the intervention group largely adhered to all online programs on their own and were very satisfied with the prescribed treatments, especially the video-based physiotherapy component.
Internet-based health interventions are certainly not new. However, my suspicion is that 20 years from now we will look back and wonder why we did not use them more often. They are self-directed, cost-effective, reproducible, and available to any of the 87% of Americans over the age of 50 who, according to the Pew Research Center, use the Internet. These online interventions require no driving to an office, and patients can easily track their own progress by seeing how many modules they have completed.
While there are certainly limitations to the findings from Benell et al., as an accompanying editorial by Lisa Mandl, MD points out, the study serves as a very strong proof of concept that should be expanded upon. Dr. Mandl herself proclaims that “these results are encouraging and show that ‘telemedicine’ is clearly ready for prime time.”
With the number of ways we “stay connected” always increasing, it seems important for orthopaedists to learn how to use these technologies to benefit our patients. Doing so may require some adjustments, but the ultimate goal of improving the quality of life for our patients warrants whatever creativity and open-mindedness might be necessary.
Chad Krueger, MD is a military orthopaedic surgeon at Womack Army Medical Center in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from Leon S. Benson, MD.
Appropriate Use Criteria (AUC) are suggested treatment algorithms for a variety of common orthopaedic conditions, published by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
These algorithms follow logically from the AAOS’s earlier work in publishing Clinical Practice Guidelines, and the methodology behind development of Appropriate Use Criteria is available in great detail on the AAOS website.
It is clear that the recent creation of Appropriate Use Criteria for carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), like the other AUC algorithms, was very thoughtful and included the input of numerous experts. It is also clear that these criteria reflect an enormous amount of time and energy on the part of the AUC workgroup in attempting to reflect the best available evidence in managing carpal tunnel syndrome, while also allowing reasonable latitude in judgment on the part of the treating clinician.
The CTS AUC, like all AAOS AUC, are available as a downloadable application for virtually any computer or mobile platform. Using the AUC app is simple. The clinician selects items that correspond to elements of the patient’s history, physical examination, and testing/imaging findings, and then the AUC app categorizes various treatment (and/or workup) options as “appropriate,” “may be appropriate,” or “rarely appropriate.”
However, a few quirks of the CTS AUC may annoy some experienced clinicians. For example, in grading the patient’s history, the app requires that the clinician use either the Katz Hand Symptom Diagram or the CTS-6 history survey. I doubt that most seasoned hand surgeons routinely use these history tools unless their patient is enrolled in a research study. Additionally, the CTS-6 history survey lists “nocturnal numbness” as a choice; carpal tunnel patients typically report nocturnal pain that awakens them from sleep, not numbness (which is usually noticed upon awakening in the morning). In fact, nocturnal pain is probably the most reliable historical detail in confirming carpal tunnel syndrome. The CTS-6 criteria also give considerable weight to the presence of a positive Phalen’s test and Tinel’s sign even though these findings are commonly present in patients who have no pathology. The absence of these physical findings in patients who are suspected of carpal tunnel syndrome is probably more meaningful.
For the most part, though, the CTS AUC get a lot right about currently accepted treatment pathways for carpal tunnel syndrome. Playing around with the app, I was unable to create a combination of history, physical findings, and test data that produced treatment options with which I couldn’t agree. Furthermore, the AUC permit enough latitude in treatment recommendations to encompass the personal preferences of the vast majority of hand surgeons.
But perhaps the most compelling question is — why do we need an AUC app in the first place? Doctors crave autonomy for many reasons, not the least of which are the extreme time commitment and intellectual demands of medical training, including residency and fellowship. Furthermore, orthopaedic judgment is refined through years of practical experience accrued over the course of a career. How can that be simulated with a simplified decision tree that boils everything down to a handful of categories? And few fellowship-trained hand surgeons will immediately like the idea of an amorphous body of “experts” coming up with an iPhone app to tell them how to treat carpal tunnel syndrome.
However, there is another, critically important theme to the AUC story. Our colleagues who contribute their expertise to the AAOS AUC projects are actually providing a huge service to orthopaedic patients nationwide. As health-care delivery in the United States evolves, third-party payors and policy decision-makers are demanding that treatments be evidence based and consistent with expert consensus of “best practices.” If doctors themselves do not weigh in on this topic, stakeholders who are neither patients nor providers will make up the rules. Most certainly, that would be less optimal for patients than physician experts helping craft treatment parameters, even if the parameters so created are not perfect or applicable to every imaginable clinical scenario.
With this perspective in mind, the CTS AUC have achieved reasonable goals, and they support most of the commonly recommended treatment approaches to managing carpal tunnel syndrome. More importantly, the AUC-development process allows the community of orthopaedic specialists to have a seat at the table when value-based medicine is demanded, as it should be, by both our patients and policy-makers.
Although my pride might be a little bruised when I imagine practicing medicine by checking off boxes on a mobile app, I can handle it if it strengthens the identity of orthopaedic surgeons as leaders in doing what’s best for our patients.
Leon S. Benson, MD is chief of the Division of Hand Surgery at NorthShore University Healthsystem, professor of clinical orthopaedic surgery at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, and a hand surgeon at the Illinois Bone and Joint Institute. He is also a JBJS associate editor.
OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from Grigory Gershkovich, MD.
Shoulder arthroplasty continues to grow in popularity, and as the number of shoulder arthroplasties rises, so will the number of revisions. Infection is one major reason for shoulder arthroplasty failure, and Propionibacterium has been increasingly recognized as a major culprit.
However, Propionibacterium infection is difficult to diagnose. Despite improved detection techniques, diagnosis at the time of revision remains elusive because obvious signs of acute infection are often absent. The need to perform explantation in the setting of clinically apparent periprosthetic infection is obvious, but the appropriateness of single-stage revision with antibiotic treatment in shoulders with only apparent mechanical failures remains questionable.
Hsu et al. attempted to address this question in a study published in the December 21, 2016 issue of JBJS. The group retrospectively reviewed the outcomes of 55 shoulders that underwent revision arthroplasty due to continued pain, stiffness, or component loosening without obvious clinical infection. Mean follow up was 48 months. At least five cultures were obtained intraoperatively during each revision, and each case was treated with antibiotics as if were truly infected until the final culture results were received after three weeks. Shoulders were revised to either hemi-arthroplasty, total shoulder arthroplasty, or reverse total shoulder arthroplasty.
Hsu et al. analyzed outcomes according to two groups: the positive cohort (n=27), where shoulders had ≥ 2 cultures positive for Propionibacterium, and the control cohort (n=28), where shoulders had either 0 or 1 positive culture. The two groups were compared by before- and after-revision performance on the simple shoulder test (SST) and pain outcome scores.
Both groups improved postoperatively based on these patient-reported outcome measures, and no significant difference was found between the two groups. Three patients in each group required a return to the OR. Gastrointestinal side effects were the most commonly reported complication from prolonged antibiotic administration.
This study design was limited by its retrospective nature and the lack of a two-stage revision treatment comparison group. Furthermore, this study included only patients with no signs of clinical infection, and the findings may not be applicable to patients with perioperative signs of infection. The study also incorporated three revision surgery implant options, which could have influenced postoperative SST and pain scores. Larger, multicenter controlled trials will be needed to produce a more definitive answer to this complicated question.
Still, there are clear benefits of single-stage revision over two-stage revision, especially with regard to operative time, anesthesia risks, and patient recovery. Given the wide antibiotic sensitivity profile of Propionibacterium and these initial results from Hsu et al., single-stage revision with appropriate antibiotic therapy may be suitable for patients undergoing revision shoulder arthroplasty in the setting of suspected Propionibacterium infection.
Grigory Gershkovich, MD is chief resident at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. He will complete a hand fellowship at the University of Chicago in 2017-2018.
OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from Brett A. Freedman, MD.
In the December 21, 2016 edition of the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, Bunta, et al. published an analysis of data from the Own the Bone quality improvement program collected between January 1, 2010 and March 31, 2015. Over this period of time, 125 sites prospectively collected detailed osteoporosis and bone health-related data points on men and women over the age of 50 who presented with a fragility fracture.
The Own the Bone initiative is more than a data registry; it’s a quality improvement program intended to provide a paradigm for increasing the diagnostic and therapeutic recognition (i.e. “response rate”) of the osteoporosis underlying fragility fractures among orthopaedic practices that treat these injuries. With more than 23,000 individual patients enrolled, and almost 10,000 follow-up records, this is the most robust dataset in existence on the topic.
This initiative has more than doubled the response rate among orthopaedic practices treating fragility fractures. The number of institutions implementing Own the Bone grew from 14 sites in 2005-6 to 177 in 2015. According to Bunta et al., 53% of patients enrolled in the Own the Bone quality Improvement program received bone mineral density testing and/or osteoporosis therapy following their fracture.
Own the Bone was a natural progression of rudimentary efforts that came about during the Bone and Joint Decade, and it marks a strategic effort on the part of the American Orthopedic Association to identify and treat the osteoporosis underlying fragility fractures. Multiple studies have demonstrated that only 1 out of every 4 to 5 patients who present with a fragility fracture will receive a clinical diagnosis of osteoporosis and/or active treatment to prevent secondary fractures related to osteoporosis. Ample Level-1 evidence demonstrates that the initiation of first-line agents like bisphosphonates, or second-line agents when indicated, can reduce the chance of a subsequent fragility fracture by at least 50%. We know these medicines work.
We also know that osteoporosis is a progressive phenomenon. Therefore, failing to respond to the osteoporosis underlying fragility fractures means we as a medical system fail to treat the root cause in these patients. The fracture is a symptom of an underlying disease that needs to be addressed or it will continue to produce recurrent fractures and progressive decline in overall health.
The members of the Own the Bone initiative must be commended for their admirable work. We as an orthopedic community need to attempt to incorporate lessons learned through the Own the Bone experience into our practice to ensure that we provide complete care to those with a fragility fracture. The report from Bunta et al. represents a large—but single—step forward on the journey toward universal recognition and treatment of the diminished bone quality underlying fragility fractures. I look forward to additional reports from this group detailing their continued success in raising the bar of understanding and intervention.
Brett A. Freedman, MD is an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in spine trauma and degenerative spinal diseases at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.
OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from Richard Yoon, MD and Grigory Gershkovich, MD.
The AAOS recently reviewed the evidence for surgical management of osteoarthritis of the knee (SMOAK) and issued a set of appropriate use criteria (AUC) that help determine the appropriateness of clinical practice guidelines (CPGs). These AUC can be accessed on the OrthoGuidelines website: www.orthoguidelines.org/auc.
The AUC were developed after a panel of specialists reviewed the 2015 CPGs on SMOAK and made appropriateness assessments for a multitude of clinical scenarios and treatments. The panel found 21% of the voted-on items “appropriate”; 25% were designated “maybe appropriate,” and 54% were ranked as “rarely appropriate.”
Importantly, these AUC do not provide a substitute for surgical decision making. The physician should always determine treatment on an individual basis, ideally with the patient fully engaged in the decision.
This OrthoBuzz post summarizes some of the updated conclusions according to three clinical time points—pre-operative, peri-operative, and postoperative—specifying the strength of supporting evidence. This post is not intended to review appropriateness for every clinical scenario. We encourage physicians to explore the OrthoGuidelines website for complete AUC information.
Strong evidence: Obese patients exhibit minimal improvement after total knee arthroplasty
(TKA), and such patients should be counseled accordingly.
Moderate evidence: Diabetic patients have a higher risk of complications after TKA.
Moderate evidence: An 8-month delay to TKA does not worsen outcomes.
Strong evidence: Both peri-articular local anesthetics and peripheral nerve blocks decrease postoperative pain and opioid requirements.
Moderate evidence: Neuraxial anesthesia may decrease complication rates and improve select peri-operative outcomes.
Moderate evidence: Judicious use of tourniquets decreases blood loss, but tourniquets may also increase short-term post-operative pain.
Strong evidence: The use of tranexamic acid (TXA) reduces post-operative blood loss and the need for transfusions.
Strong evidence: Drains do not help reduce complications or improve outcomes.
Strong evidence: There is no difference in outcomes between cruciate-retaining and posterior stabilized implants.
Strong evidence: All-polyethylene and modular components yield similar outcomes.
Strong, moderate, and limited evidence to support either cemented or cementless techniques, as similar outcomes and complication rates were found.
Strong evidence: There is no difference in pain/function with patellar resurfacing.
Moderate evidence: Patellar resurfacing decreases 5-year re-operation rates.
Moderate evidence shows no difference between unicompartmental knee arthroplasty (UKA) and high tibial osteotomy (HTO).
Moderate evidence favors TKA over UKA to avoid future revisions.
Strong evidence against the use of intraoperative navigation and patient-specific instrumentation, as no difference in outcomes has been observed.
Strong evidence: Rehab/PT started on day of surgery reduces length of stay.
Moderate evidence: Rehab/PT started on day of surgery reduces pain and improves function.
Strong evidence: The use of continuous passive motion machines does not improve outcomes after TKA.
Richard Yoon, MD is a fellow in orthopaedic traumatology and complex adult reconstruction at Orlando Regional Medical Center.
Grigory Gershkovich, MD is chief resident at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. He will be completing a hand fellowship at the University of Chicago in 2017-2018.
OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. In response to a recent JAMA study, the following two commentaries come from Chad Krueger, MD, and Shahriar Rahman, MS.
“Hmmm…. Maybe I’m operating on too many ankle fractures.” That was my first thought as I read the abstract of the recent Willett et al. study in JAMA. They conducted a well-designed, randomized controlled trial that compared operative and nonoperative treatment of unstable ankle fractures, using the Olerud-Molander Ankle Score at 6 months postoperatively as the primary outcome measure.
On the surface, it appeared as though patients who were treated nonoperatively with close contact casting did just as well as those who underwent operative intervention. This seemed to be not only the case with the primary outcome measure, but also with secondary outcomes such as quality of life, pain, and patient satisfaction. “Do less” appeared to be the main message of the abstract. However, I became more skeptical after critically reading the entire article.
First off, the study was designed to determine differences between treatment groups, not to prove that they were equivalent. Finding no difference is not the same as showing equivalence, and the article did the former, not the latter.
There are also a few things about the study that may limit the wide applicability of the findings and provide some solace to surgeons like me who feel that fixing unstable ankle fractures provides superior outcomes. First, only initial radiographs were used to determine who had unstable ankle fractures. Stress radiographs were an exclusion criterion, so for the many ankle fractures that require such imaging to determine instability, the results from Willett et al. may not apply.
Second, the study was designed to compare these treatments in older adults. The mean ages of operative and nonoperative groups were 69.8 and 71.4 years old, respectively, and almost 75% of both groups were female. While bone density was not measured in either group, it is likely that many patients included in this study had osteoporotic disease, which introduces another potential variable when interpreting the findings.
Furthermore, nearly 20 percent of all patients who initially were treated with casting developed some type of complication that required conversion to surgical fixation. This finding, plus the fact that all casts were applied by surgeons in the operating room with patients under general or spinal anesthesia, suggests that treating unstable ankle fractures with surgical fixation in a single visit would perhaps provide the most definitive treatment.
So, I will probably continue to offer patients with unstable ankle fractures surgical fixation. I have never tried the close contact casting that was described in the article, and I suspect, despite the authors’ claim of evidence to the contrary, that there is a significant learning curve associated with that technique. If about one out of every five patients I perform casting on as definitive treatment ends up needing additional procedures, I am not sure I have done the patient justice. While this study provides interesting evidence and may apply to a small subset of my older patients, I think it has limited applicability in other patients who present with unstable ankle fractures.
Chad Krueger, MD is a military orthopaedic surgeon at Womack Army Medical Center in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
* * * *
The Willett et al. study in JAMA indicates that some patients older than 60 years with unstable ankle fractures can be treated by modified casting alone, without the need for operative stabilization and fixation. The study protocol allowed conversion to surgery among patients randomized to casting if reduction was not possible during the initial procedure or was lost within the first 3 weeks.
One hundred surgeons applied close contact casting at 24 major trauma centers and general hospitals in the UK. After 6 months, the mean Olerud-Molander Ankle Score was 66.0 in the surgery group vs 64.5 in the casting group—no significant difference in the primary outcome.
Secondary outcomes showed that the rate of radiographic malunion was 15% in the casting group compared with 3% in the surgery group. Conversion from casting to operative treatment was high: of the 311 patients randomized to casting, 70 (23%) were ultimately treated by internal fixation, including 18 never treated with close contact casting and 52 who lost reduction and required conversion to internal fixation. Rates of infection and wound complications were 10% in the surgical group versus 1% in the casting group. Additional operating room procedures were required in 6% of the surgery group and 1% of the casting group. Casting required less operating room time compared with surgery.
The overall similarity in clinical outcomes in this study challenges the importance of restoring exact ankle-joint congruence in older adults and suggests that function and pain are not as closely related to malunion as many clinicians believe. Neither method yielded an entirely satisfactory outcome in older adults. In older patients with lower demand, shorter life expectancy, lesser bone and tissue quality, and diminished capacity for healing, the rates of delayed or infected wound healing and loss of implant fixation are greater.
Casting may be an imperfect alternative to surgery particularly in developing countries. One must remember, however, that plaster technique is an art. Achieving the successful outcomes with close contact casting as described by Willett et al. is likely to pose a learning curve. Further studies are needed to identify which specific patients are most and least likely to benefit from casting.
Shahriar Rahman, MS is a consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare in Bangladesh.