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How to Safely Restart Elective Surgery Amid a Pandemic

OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from Chad A. Krueger, MD, co-author of a recent fast-tracked review article in JBJS.

I’ll admit that when I first started hearing about COVID-19, I didn’t pay much attention. Life was busy, and I wasn’t going to worry about something that I figured would come and go without much fuss over the next few months. While that was obviously a faulty assumption, I think few of us could have predicted just how deadly, anxiety-provoking, and disruptive this virus would be. We are now 5 or so months into this pandemic and nothing is ”normal,” but some of the measures we have taken to help flatten the curve seem to be working. In the months ahead, figuring out how to safely regain some normalcy in our lives will require careful planning, nimble adjustments, and well-coordinated cross-functional execution.

Those three actions were also required to produce the fast-tracked Current Concepts Review article in JBJS about resuming elective orthopaedic surgery during the pandemic, which I had the privilege to co-author. Amazingly, that article progressed from an idea to a published manuscript, with input from 77 physicians, in the span of 2 weeks. This fast-paced project was driven by our knowledge that many facilities worldwide were getting ready to start performing elective surgeries again, and we wanted to ensure that practical, accurate, and relevant information was available as those plans were being made.

All the expert author-contributors offered unique insights as to how the pandemic was affecting healthcare delivery in their region of the globe, allowing us to keep the recommendations as balanced as possible. Although much of the research incorporated in this review came from outside the orthopaedic literature, it all touched on our ability to safely care for patients. The process of creating this article was a great example of how strong leadership, teamwork, and compromise can help us navigate through all aspects of these uncharted waters. Everyone who worked on this manuscript, including the peer-review and editorial teams at JBJS, had one goal in mind: to help orthopaedic surgeons safely return to caring for their patients.

The international consensus group that created this review is well aware that some of the recommendations will need to be updated, changed, or maybe even scrapped altogether as we learn more about the behavior of this virus. We drafted, discussed, and revised these guidelines while appreciating that some regions of the world have not been as adversely affected as others and that there are stark global differences in testing capabilities and supplies of personal protective equipment and other resources. We are painfully aware that some of our strongest recommendations might be impossible to implement in certain settings.

Developing a one-size-fits-all framework for restarting elective orthopaedic surgery was not possible; there are simply too many variables at play with this pandemic that are beyond any individual’s or health system’s control. However, this review provides as much evidence-based guidance as possible so that individual surgeons, practices, hospitals, and municipalities can make informed decisions about how elective surgery should reemerge. We are fully aware that some people may object to some of the recommendations in this article, even though 94% to 100% of the 77-member consensus group agreed on all of them. Nevertheless, we hope that this guidance—and updates to it as more evidence becomes available—will help us all continue to make highly informed decisions before, during, and after elective surgery to keep ourselves and our patients safe.

Chad A. Krueger, MD is an orthopaedic fellow in adult reconstructive surgery at the Rothman Institute and former Deputy Editor for Social Media at JBJS.

PT More Effective than Steroid Injections for Knee OA

OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. In response to a recent study in The New England Journal of Medicinethe following commentary comes from Jaime L. Bellamy, DO.

A majority of patients I see for knee osteoarthritis (OA) want a quick fix. Many would like to skip conservative treatment–activity modification, weight loss, physical therapy (PT), anti-inflammatory medication, and intra-articular steroid injections–and go straight to surgical management. Regarding nonoperative management of knee OA, the most recent AAOS Clinical Practice Guidelines “strongly” recommend that patients participate in PT and “inconclusively” recommend intra-articular steroid injections.1 Yet, in my clinical practice, I confess to typically offering a knee injection first, before PT.

I may change that practice in light of the randomized controlled trial (RCT) by Deyle et al. in the April 9, 2020 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine. The trial compared PT to glucocorticoid knee injections among 156 primary-care knee OA patients within a military health system. The primary outcome measure was the WOMAC score at 1 year. Secondary outcomes included the Alternate Step Test and the Timed Up and Go test.

Seventy-eight patients randomly assigned to each group were included in the analysis. The PT intervention included detailed home-exercise instructions and 8 sessions with a therapist over the initial 4- to 6-week period. Patients could also attend 1 to 3 PT sessions at the 4-month and 9-month reassessments. Knee-injection patients received 1 ml of triamcinolone acetonide (40 mg per milliliter) and 7 ml of 1% lidocaine up to three times in one year.

The mean baseline WOMAC scores were similar between the groups. However, at 1 year, the authors found a mean between-group difference of 18.8 points in WOMAC scores, favoring PT over injections. Secondary outcomes also favored PT over knee injections.

Regardless of this RCTs limitations, such as the lack of reporting on knee-injection techniques, the findings serve as a reminder to orthopaedists to recommend PT as an effective nonoperative treatment option for knee OA. Additionally, our primary care colleagues can use this data to help convince patients with knee OA that they do not need to rush in to see a surgeon.

Jaime L. Bellamy, DO (@jaimelbellamyDO) is an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in hip and knee reconstruction in Fort Bragg, NC and a member of the JBJS Social Media Advisory Board.

Reference

  1. AAOS Clinical Practice Guidelines, Treatment of Osteoarthritis of the Knee, 2nd Edition (2013), http://www.orthoguidelines.org/topic?id=1005, accessed 4/14/2020.

Virtual PT Noninferior to and Less Expensive than Usual Care

OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. In response to a recent study in The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgerythe following commentary comes from Jaime L Bellamy, DO.

The most common complication arthroplasty surgeons worry about after total knee arthroplasty (TKA) is stiffness, which occurs in a reported 15.98% of cases.1 The notion of TKA patients doing their postoperative physical therapy (PT) on their own at home with a “virtual avatar” gives me pause because it might increase the risk of stiffness. However, if patients could save money, make satisfactory progress in the comfort of their own home, and not experience undue knee stiffness, virtual PT technology would be worth it.

In the January 15, 2020 issue of The Journal, Bettger et al. report on a randomized controlled trial that compared virtual to traditional PT after TKA. The authors hypothesized that virtual PT would cost less and would be clinically noninferior to traditional PT. The  FDA-approved Virtual Exercise Rehabilitation Assistant (VERA) studied in this trial uses 3-D technology to track patient movement and an avatar (digitally simulated coach) to assist patients through PT exercises. Virtual PT technology like this not only has the potential to reduce costs (particularly travel costs incurred by patients who live in rural areas), but also to help address current and expected therapist shortages.

There were 143 patients in the virtual PT group and 144 in the traditional PT group. Patients randomized to virtual PT had the technology set up in their home prior to surgery. In addition to avatar-assisted home exercises, virtual PT patients had weekly “video visits” with a human therapist.

Bettger et al. found the median 12-week costs for virtual and traditional PT to be $1,050 and $2,805, respectively. Additionally, at 6 weeks, virtual PT was found to be noninferior to traditional PT in terms of patient outcome measures, knee range of motion, and gait speed. At 12 weeks, virtual PT was found to be noninferior to usual care in terms of pain and hospital readmissions.

I am relieved that virtual PT has the potential to provide cost savings, without apparently increasing the risk of knee stiffness. The cost savings and at-home convenience may be especially important for elderly TKA patients who are living on a fixed income and for whom transportation issues are often vexing. I hope technology like VERA continues to contribute to improved patient satisfaction and easier access to PT.

Jaime L. Bellamy, DO (@jaimelbellamyDO) is an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in hip and knee reconstruction in Fort Bragg, NC and a member of the JBJS Social Media Advisory Board.

Reference

  1. Can administrative data be used to analyze complications following total joint arthroplasty? Clair AJ, et al. J Arthroplasty, 2015;30(9 Suppl):17-20. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.arth.2015.01.060

Hemi vs THA Findings Helpful, But Not Practice-Changing

OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. In response to a recent study in The New England Journal of Medicinethe following commentary comes from Paul E. Matuszewski, MD.

A recent issue of The New England Journal of Medicine published the results from a large, multicenter randomized trial comparing the outcomes of hemiarthroplasty versus total hip arthroplasty (THA) to treat displaced femoral neck fractures in ambulatory adults.

The HEALTH investigators enrolled 1,495 patients in the study, and 85.1% of those patients had complete data for analysis after 2 years. The researchers found no significant differences between the groups with regard to the primary outcome—secondary hip procedures (7.9% in the THA group vs 8.3% in the hemi group). The risk of secondary hip procedures during the first year was higher in the THA group, but the hemiarthroplasty group had a higher risk of secondary procedures in the second year. Open/closed reductions of hip dislocations were the most common secondary procedures among the THA group, and revision to THA was the most common secondary procedure in the hemiarthroplasty group. The THA group had slightly better WOMAC scores, but the difference was not within a clinically significant range. There were no between-group differences noted in other patient-reported outcomes.

The HEALTH investigators followed these patients for only two years, which is notably the standard for many orthopaedic studies, but this short follow-up limits the practical application of these findings. The authors note that after the first year, primary THA was favorable with regard to secondary hip procedures. It is reasonable to think that this difference may become more compelling beyond 2 years, as more patients who received hemiarthroplasty are likely to be converted to THA.

The suggestion that there may not be an early benefit of THA over hemiarthroplasty in the ambulatory adult with a displaced femoral neck fracture contrasts with current recommendations from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. However, the 2-year follow-up of this trial represents only a “snapshot” of the continuum of outcomes from these two hip-fracture treatments. The findings may add to our understanding of what our patients can expect during the first 2 years following these procedures, but I would caution surgeons against making any drastic changes to their current practice in response to this data.

Paul E. Matuszewski, MD is the Director of Orthopaedic Trauma Research and Assistant Professor of Orthopaedic Traumatology at the University of Kentucky.

Eschew the “Quick Fix” Approach to Early Knee OA

OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. In response to a recent study in Arthritis Care & Researchthe following commentary comes from Jeffrey B. Stambough, MD.

As orthopaedic surgeons, we share a collective objective to help patients improve function while minimizing pain. When patients come to our office for a new clinical visit for knee osteoarthritis (OA), we spend time getting to know them and gathering information about their activities, limitations, and functional goals. We balance this patient-reported information with discrete data points, such as weight, range-of-motion restrictions, and radiographic disease classification. Based on the symptom duration and other factors, most patients are not candidates for a knee replacement at this first visit. However, despite the publication of clinical practice guidelines for the nonoperative management of knee OA in 2008, with an update in 2013, significant variation exists in how orthopaedists treat these patients.

This guideline–practice disconnect is emphasized in findings from a recent study in Arthritis Care & Research that examined nonoperative knee OA management practices during clinic visits between 2007 and 2015. The authors found that the overall prescription of NSAID and opioid medications increased 2- and 3-fold, respectively, over that time, while recommendations for lifestyle interventions, self-directed activity, and physical therapy decreased by about 50%.

To me, the most troubling finding from this study is the sharp increase in narcotic prescriptions, because recent evidence demonstrates that narcotics do not effectively treat arthritis pain. Moreover, for patients who go on to arthroplasty, recent studies have found that preoperative opioid use portends worse postsurgical outcomes in terms of higher revision rates,  worse function scores, and decreased knee motion.

The findings from this study also speak to a larger societal issue for doctors and patients alike: the desire for a “quick fix.”  Despite the time pressure from increasing EHR documentation burdens, dwindling reimbursements, or lack of local resources, we owe it to our patients to counsel them on lifestyle modifications and self-management strategies to help them stay mobile, lose weight (if necessary), and take charge of their joint health. As orthopaedic surgeons, we must continue to strive to de-emphasize opioid pain medication when treating knee OA patients and support them in a holistic manner to ensure their overall health and the function and longevity of their native knee joint.

Jeffrey B. Stambough, MD is an orthopaedic hip and knee surgeon, an assistant professor of orthopaedic surgery at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and a member of the JBJS Social Media Advisory Board.

Chicago Orthopaedic Surgery PGY1 Journal Club Commentary

I was pleasantly surprised and excited when I first heard about the citywide Chicago PGY1 journal club. This journal club was funded by the Robert Bucholz Resident Journal Club Grant through The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery. The premise of this program was for all of the orthopedic surgery PGY1s from around the city to meet and discuss landmark articles specific to a certain orthopedic topic. The event that I attended was the first meeting of the program, and the focus of our discussion revolved around four orthopedic trauma articles. I recognized all of the articles as the guidelines established from these papers are still used in our trauma practice every day.

Although I knew the general principles derived from this literature, I found reading the full text beneficial as it helped provide a more thorough background into the reasoning behind the decisions we make in the management of various fracture patterns. What I found most educational however was the discussions we had with residents at various programs, specifically in regards to our institutions’ management of common orthopedic fractures. We each went around the table and discussed our ED management of injuries including humeral shaft fractures, femoral shaft fractures, open fractures, and our intraoperative technique for intramedullary nailing of tibial shaft fractures.

While there were small differences in our management of these injuries, we all seemed to abide by the general guidelines that were set into motion after the publication of these landmark articles. It brought into focus how influential this literature has been, and also gave me additional insight into possible alternative management algorithms that could produce similar outcomes. When working at one institution throughout your residency, that institutions protocols often become the “normal” for you. I now better recognize that it is important to keep an open mind and that there can be many methods to achieve a desired result.

Our meeting allowed for a low stress environment to both appreciate and constructively criticize how we think about orthopedic trauma. At our specific institution the discussion of articles occurs in a large group setting with attendings and senior residents, and usually focuses on more recent literature. I think it is essential to understand where we came from, and this citywide journal club provides that history while also encouraging open critical discussion. I think any junior resident would benefit from this type of educational open forum with their colleagues.

You can apply for your own Robert Bucholz Resident Journal Club Grant by clicking this link.

Jeremy Adler

Orthopaedic Surgery, PGY-2

University of Chicago

Jeremy.adler@uchospitals.edu

Not Your Grandparent’s Journal Club

OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. The following commentary comes from Matthew R. Schmitz, MD, FAOA.

Medical education is a constant need, but how it’s delivered is always changing. When my grandfather was a surgeon, medical trainees brought their dusty textbooks and print journals to “fireside chats” at an attending’s home. Today, we have online journals, tablets and smartphones, podcasts, and “virtual” discussions on social media platforms. Although the technologies evolve, the need to discuss present and past literature remains constant.

These discussions often taken place nowadays through journal clubs. Medical residents across the continent routinely get together in formal or informal settings to discuss journal articles, not only to acquire the knowledge contained in the articles themselves, but also to learn how to properly read, critique, and digest the information.

JBJS provides medical education across multiple platforms, several of which I participate in. I strongly encourage residency programs to submit an application for the 2019-2020 JBJS Robert Bucholz Resident Journal Club Grant Program before the deadline of September 30, 2019. The grant allows medical educators to support their journal clubs in many ways:

  • Investigating new and innovative alternatives to the traditional journal club.
  • Bringing an author to your institution to discuss his or her articles.
  • Hosting a virtual journal club with multiple authors via teleconference or social media.
  • Purchasing food and refreshments within the “old school” method of a fireside chat at an attending’s home.

No matter the platform or methodology, journal clubs are a vital part of orthopaedic education, not only for interpreting literature, but also for incorporating knowledge into future clinical practice and for the joy and excitement of lifelong learning.

Matthew R. Schmitz, MD, FAOA is an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in adolescent sports and young adult hip preservation at the San Antonio Military Medical Center in San Antonio, TX. He is also a member of the JBJS Social Media Advisory Board.

Dual-Mobility Cups Lower Revision Risk in Some THAs

OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. In response to a recent study in The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgerythe following commentary comes from Matthew Deren, MD.

Early or late dislocation after total hip arthroplasty (THA) is a dreaded complication, and performing a THA to treat a hip fracture is known to increase the risk of postoperative prosthetic joint dislocation. Large-diameter femoral heads, like those used in metal-on-metal implants, offered the prospect of decreased risk of dislocation. Unfortunately, their promise of improved stability was subsequently offset by serious issues with wear. Orthopaedics is notable for technology that promised to solve one problem but led to another, and some wonder whether the increasing popularity of THA using dual-mobility cups to reduce dislocation risk might lead to another example of this paradoxical problem.

However, in the July 17, 2019 issue of The Journal, Jobory et al. published a population-based prospective cohort analysis based on data from the Nordic Arthroplasty Register Association. That study demonstrated a reduced revision risk with dual-mobility acetabular components when THA was performed to treat hip fracture in elderly patients. The authors propensity-score matched 4,520 hip fractures treated with dual-mobility THA to 4,520 hip fractures treated with conventional THA. The study included surgeries from 2001 to 2014, and the median follow-up was 2.4 years for all patients.

Dual-mobility constructs had a lower overall risk of any-component revision (hazard ratio of 0.75), which persisted after authors adjusted for surgical approach (hazard ratio of 0.73). Additionally, the dual-mobility construct had a lower risk of revision due to dislocation (hazard ratio of 0.45), but there was no difference in risk of deep infection between the cohorts. There was no significant difference in risk of any-component revision for aseptic loosening (hazard ratio of 0.544, p=0.052) until the authors adjusted for approach, which resulted in a decreased risk of any-component revision for aseptic loosening (hazard ratio of 0.500, p=0.030). When the authors compared revision of the acetabular component only, they found a reduced risk of revision for any cause as well as revision for dislocation in the dual-mobility cohort using both unadjusted data and data adjusted for surgical approach. Mortality was higher in the dual-mobility group compared with the conventional-component group (hazard ratio of 1.5).

Overall, this study gives us more information regarding the short-term revision risks of an implant design that is gaining popularity in the US. Although dual-mobility constructs seem to be associated with a decreased risk of revision for dislocation in a population of older adults with hip fracture, this data tells us little about this design and technology when used in younger, more active patients, who are at higher risk of polyethylene wear.

Matthew Deren, MD is an orthopaedic surgeon at UMass Memorial Medical Center, an assistant professor at University of Massachusetts Medical School, and a member of the JBJS Social Media Advisory Board.

Wide Variation in Orthopaedic Access Among Medicaid Patients

OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from Christopher Dy, MD, MPH, co-author of a recently published JBJS study.

It is no secret that patients with Medicaid (both adults and children) have difficulty making appointments for both elective and trauma-related orthopaedic care. They also travel further for care compared to privately insured patients. Conversely, Medicaid reimbursement rates for orthopaedic surgeries are substantially lower than those from Medicare and commercial insurers. Patients with Medicaid also tend to be more socially complex and have higher no-show rates for clinic appointments and surgery.

Consequently, as recently as 2011, only 40% of US orthopaedic surgeons were accepting new patients with Medicaid. This “bottleneck” effect may only get worse as reimbursement plans shift towards “pay-for-performance” and value-based payment, prompting surgeons and hospitals to become increasingly concerned about optimizing patient selection.

In a 2012 JBJS study, my colleague Ryan Calfee and co-authors demonstrated that patients with Medicaid were traveling to our institution (Washington University/Barnes Jewish Hospital in St. Louis) not only for complex cases, but also for simple and moderate-complexity hand surgery issues. These patients were bypassing hand surgeons closer to home partly because the local hand surgeons did not accept Medicaid.

With those findings in mind, we decided to more closely examine Medicaid care delivery in our region. Ideally, the insurance mix of the area surrounding a hospital should match the payer mix of the hospital. Most of us who currently work or have trained in large academic centers know that this is often not the case. Anecdotally, there are hospitals in every region that “cherry pick” the best-insured patients and transfer out the financially less desirable cases to a nearby teaching hospital. In our paper, published in the August 21, 2019 issue of JBJS, the concept of “Medicaid share ratio” is intended to reflect whether the hospital payer mix matches the insurance mix of the community. A value of 1 indicates a perfect balance.

We examined the Medicaid share ratios of the 22 hospitals in our region to see if the hospitals were “pulling their weight.” The Medicaid share ratios for elective orthopaedic care such as total joint arthroplasty ranged from 0.05 to 4.73, demonstrating massive imbalances on both ends of the spectrum. We also found very high variability in the delivery of elective orthopaedic care (coefficient of variation = 93, where values >60 are considered “very high”) and moderate variability in trauma care (coefficient of variation = 34).

Our findings were sobering, but not unexpected. The fact that some hospitals bear the brunt of care for the underinsured and uninsured is not new, and the federal government currently includes Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) payments to offset these losses. However, DSH payments are scheduled to decrease substantially in coming years as part of the original intent of the Affordable Care Act. If the continuing (and possibly worsening) burden of undercompensated care becomes financially suffocating to teaching and safety-net hospitals, they may seek to curb those losses in ways that could further limit access to underinsured patients and/or drive costs up for patients with other types of insurance.

At the surgeon level, we should address surgeon hesitation to accept Medicaid patients through engagement with specialty societies and policy reform. Our research team is currently working to learn more about what surgeons and patients think are potential solutions for these disparities in our region. As surgeons and researchers, we must work toward a more complete understanding of what drives these disparities in orthopaedic care. Otherwise, it will be impossible to figure out how to fix them.

Christopher Dy, MD, MPH is a hand and peripheral nerve surgeon, an assistant professor at Washington University Orthopaedics, and a member of the JBJS Social Media Advisory Board.

More Mortality Data on Hip Fractures in the Elderly

OrthoBuzz occasionally receives posts from guest bloggers. This guest post comes from Matthew Herring, MD, in response to a recent study in the Journal of Orthopaedic Trauma.

Among the elderly, low-energy hip fractures are common injuries that almost all orthopaedic surgeons encounter. While operative management is typically the standard of care, there are some patients for whom nonoperative treatment is most aligned with their goals of care, usually because of chronic disease, fragility, and/or high risk of perioperative mortality.

When counseling elderly patients and family members about the risks and benefits of surgical management for a hip fracture, we have abundant data. We can estimate the length of rehabilitation, discuss the likelihood of regaining independence with ambulation, and quote the 30-day, 1-year, and 5-year mortality statistics. But what about the risks and benefits of nonoperative care? How long do these patients live? How many are alive 1 year after the fracture?

Chlebeck and colleagues attempt to answer those questions with a retrospective cohort study of 77 hip fracture patients who were treated nonoperatively and a matched cohort of 154 operatively treated hip fracture patients. Nonoperative management was chosen only after a palliative-care consult was obtained and after a thorough multidisciplinary discussion of treatment goals with the patient and family. Patients who elected nonoperative care were treated with early limited weight bearing and a focus on maximizing comfort. Researchers established a comparative operative cohort through 2:1 matched pairing, controlling for age, sex, fracture type, Charlson Comorbidity Index, preinjury living situation, preinjury ambulatory status, and presence of dementia and cardiac arrhythmia.

As one might expect, there was significantly lower mortality in the operative group. The in-hospital, 30-day, and 1-year mortality for nonoperatively treated patients was 28.6%, 63.6%, and 84.4% respectively. The mortality rates seen in the operative cohort were 3.9%, 11.0%, and 36.4% respectively. A Kaplan-Meier survival analysis revealed the median life expectancy in the nonoperative cohort to be 14 days, versus 839 days in the operative group (p <0.0001). Interestingly, the researchers found no difference in hospital length of stay between the two groups (5.4 vs. 7.7 days; p=0.10).

These results provide useful references for orthopedic surgeons to use when counseling hip fracture patients and their families. Surgical intervention remains the standard of care in most instances, and this study suggests that operative care offers a significant mortality benefit over nonoperative care even in relatively unhealthy patients, like those selected for the matched operative cohort.

This study also gives us data to help guide the expectations of patients who decide surgery is not in line with their wishes. Half of the patients who elected nonoperative care in this study died within 14 days of admission, and only 15.6% were still alive at 1 year. Additionally, choosing nonoperative care does not lengthen hospitalization, suggesting that these patients can be quickly transferred to a more comfortable setting.

Matthew Herring, MD is a fellow in orthopaedic trauma at the University of California, San Francisco and a member of the JBJS Social Media Advisory Board.