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Bundled Payments for Hip and Knee Replacement: Working as Planned?

When Medicare’s Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement (CJR) program was implemented in 2016, the health care community—especially orthopaedic surgeons— had 2 major concerns. First, would the program actually demonstrate the ability to decrease the costs of total joint replacements while maintaining the same, or improved, outcomes? Second, would CJR promote the unintended consequence of participating hospitals and surgeons ”cherry picking” lower-risk patients and steering clear of higher-risk (and presumably higher cost) patients?  Both of these questions were at the heart of the study by Barnett et al. in a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

The authors evaluated hip and knee replacements at 75 metropolitan centers that were mandated to participate in the CJR program and compared the costs, complication rates, and patient demographics to similar procedures at 121 control centers that did not participate in CJR. The authors found significantly greater decreases in institutional spending per joint-replacement episode in institutions participating in the CJR compared to those that did not. Most of these savings appeared to come from CJR-participating institutions sending fewer patients to post-acute care facilities after surgery. Furthermore, the authors did not find differences between centers participating in the CJR and control centers in terms of composite complication rate or the percentage of procedures that were performed on high-risk patients.

While this 2-year evaluation does not provide the level of detail necessary to make far-reaching conclusions, it does address two of the biggest concerns related to CJR implementation from a health-systems perspective. There may be individual CJR-participating centers that are not saving Medicare money or that are cherry picking lower-risk patients, but overall the program appears to be doing what it set out to do—successfully motivating participating hospitals and healthcare facilities to look critically at what they can do to decrease the costs of a joint-replacement episode while simultaneously maintaining a high level of patient care. The Trump administration shifted CJR to a partly voluntary model in March 2018, and I hope policymakers consider these findings if further changes to the CJR model are planned.

Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media

Full-Thickness Cartilage Defects More Predictive of Future TKA than Joint-Space Narrowing

Many older patients present to orthopaedic surgeons with clinical knee pain suggestive of osteoarthritis (OA) but with little or no radiographic evidence of disease. And a substantial proportion of those patients do not respond adequately to the recommended, first-line nonsurgical treatment approaches to knee OA. A prognostic study by Everhart et al. in the January 2, 2019 issue of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery helps explain why that might be.

The authors evaluated baseline knee radiographs and MRIs from >1,300 older adults (mean age of 61 years) who were enrolled in the Osteoarthritis Initiative, a multicenter observational cohort study with a median of 9 years of follow-up data. They sought to determine independent risk factors for progression to total knee arthroplasty (TKA) among this cohort, all of whom showed Kellgren-Lawrence grade 0 to 3 OA on knee radiographs. MRIs taken at baseline revealed that 38% of those patients had a full-thickness knee-cartilage defect. After the authors adjusted for various confounders (including age, weight, and symptom severity), they found that regardless of radiographic grade, the presence of a full-thickness cartilage defect was a strong independent risk factor for subsequent TKA. Moreover, patients with a defect ≥2 cm2 had twice the risk of arthroplasty compared with patients with defects <2 cm2.

According to the authors, the findings highlight the “greater importance of full-thickness cartilage loss over radiographic OA grade as a determinant of OA severity, specifically regarding the risk of future knee arthroplasty in older adults.” In his commentary on this study, Drew A. Lansdown, MD emphasizes that Everhart et al. “do not advocate for the routine use of MRI in the diagnosis of knee osteoarthritis,” but he says the findings “do suggest that early MRI may have a diagnostic role for patients who are not responding as expected to nonoperative measures.” Noting that the patients in this cohort would probably not be ideal candidates for current cartilage-restoration procedures, Dr. Lansdown encourages further research focused on identifying “patient-specific factors that can match patients with the treatment…that will provide the greatest likelihood of symptom relief and functional improvement.”

Unexplained Pain After TKA? Duloxetine Might Help

Somewhere between 10% and 15% of patients are unsatisfied with their outcome after primary total knee arthroplasty (TKA). In some cases, dissatisfaction is related to poor range of motion, but more often it is related to residual—or even intensified—pain in the knee several weeks after surgery.

In the January 2, 2019 issue of The Journal, Koh et al. report the results of a prospective randomized trial assessing the effects of duloxetine (Cymbalta) in TKA patients who were screened preoperatively for “central sensitization.” In central sensitization, a hyperexcitable central nervous system becomes hypersensitive to stimuli, noxious and otherwise.

Koh et al. randomized 80 centrally sensitized patients (mean age of 69 years), 40 of whom received a multimodal perioperative pain management protocol plus duloxetine, and 40 of whom received the multimodal protocol without duloxetine. During postoperative weeks 2 through 12, patients taking duloxetine reported better results in terms of pain and functional and emotional outcome measures than those not receiving the drug. Patients in the duloxetine group expressed greater satisfaction with pain control (77% vs 29%) and daily activity (83% vs 52%) at postoperative week 12, compared with those in the control group.

This research represents an important advance in identifying and treating patients who are prone to poor outcomes after TKA. The concept of central sensitization is relatively new to the orthopaedic community, and this pharmacologic intervention is likely to be just the first among many that will help these patients. I think it is probable that other, nonpharmacological interventions will eventually be as or even more successful in helping TKA patients with central sensitization. Koh et al. make a valuable  contribution in this article by educating us as to the neurophysiologic basis of this condition, and their work should pave the way for more important research in this area.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief

Epiphyseal Etiology for Juvenile Osteochondritis Dissecans?

Most patients with clinically apparent juvenile osteochondritis dissecans (JOCD) are between 12 and 19 years of age. Often the disease can be treated successfully with nonoperative modalities, but even in cases where the initial lesion resolves, patients may be predisposed to osteoarthritis later in life. While repetitive microtrauma is suspected to be involved in the development of JOCD, the exact etiology remains poorly understood, even 130 years after the condition was first described.

In the December 19, 2018 issue of The Journal, Toth et al. histologically examined 59 biopsy samples from the central condyles of 26 pediatric cadavers to look for areas of epiphyseal cartilage necrosis. Hypothesizing that such evaluation would reveal some lesions similar to those found in animals, the authors did indeed identify 6 samples with 1 or more areas of necrotic cartilage, which were either incorporated into subchondral bone or associated with focal failure of endochondral ossification. Those characteristics are consistent with a similar disease process called osteochondrosis manifesta seen in pigs and horses.  While the clinical significance of these findings remains to be determined, the authors suggest that they may help explain an epiphyseal etiology of JOCD, and the data suggest that these microscopic changes (some of which are rendered in this article as whole-slide images) are probably present in young people 5 to 10 years prior to the clinical manifestations of JOCD.

These findings lend credence to the theory that the underlying etiology of JOCD primarily involves the epiphyseal growth plate rather than subchondral bone. Furthermore, the similarities between these cadaveric specimens and osteochondrosis manifesta lesions in porcine and equine femoral condyles may help us develop improved models to better diagnose, prevent, and treat this pathology.

Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media

Extended Oral Antibiotics May Cut PJI Risk When Risk Factors Aren’t Modifiable

Periprosthetic joint infections (PJIs) create a significant burden for patients, surgeons, and healthcare systems. That is why so much research has gone into how best to optimize certain patients preoperatively—such as those with obesity, diabetes, or kidney disease—to decrease the risk of these potentially catastrophic complications. Still, it is not always possible or feasible to optimize every “high-risk” patient who would benefit from a total hip or knee replacement, and therefore many such patients undergo surgery with an increased risk of infection. In such cases, surgeons need additional strategies to decrease PJI risk.

In the December 19, 2018  issue of JBJS, Inabathula et al. investigate whether providing high-risk total joint arthroplasty (TJA) patients with extended postoperative oral antibiotics decreased the risk of PJI within the first 90 days after surgery. In their retrospective cohort study, the authors examined >2,100 total hip and knee replacements performed at a single suburban academic hospital. The patients in 68% of these cases had at least one risk factor for infection. Among those high-risk patients, about half received 7 days of an oral postoperative antibiotic, while the others received only the standard 24 hours of postoperative intravenous (IV) antibiotics.

Relative to those who received IV antibiotics only, those who received extended oral antibiotics experienced an 81% reduction in infection for total knee arthroplasties and a 74% reduction in infection for total hip arthroplasties. I was stunned by such large reductions in infection rates obtained simply by adding an oral antibiotic twice a day for 7 days. Most arthroplasty surgeons go to great lengths to decrease the risk of joint infection by percentages much less than that.

While further investigations are needed and legitimate concerns exist regarding the propagation of antimicrobial-resistant organisms from medical antibiotic misuse, these data are very exciting.  I agree with Monti Khatod, MD, who, in his commentary on this study, says that “care pathways that aim to improve modifiable risk factors should not be seen as obsolete based on the findings of this paper.” Furthermore, the study itself is at risk for treatment and selection biases that could greatly influence its outcomes. Nevertheless, getting a successful result in these patients is challenging and, if validated with further data, this research may help surgeons obtain better outcomes when treating high-risk patients in need of hip or knee replacements.

Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media

December 2018 Article Exchange with JOSPT

In 2015, JBJS launched an “article exchange” collaboration with the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy (JOSPT) to support multidisciplinary integration, continuity of care, and excellent patient outcomes in orthopaedics and sports medicine.

During the month of December 2018, JBJS and OrthoBuzz readers will have open access to the JOSPT article titled “Perceptions of Rehabilitation and Return to Sport Among High School Athletes With Anterior Cruciate Ligament Reconstruction: A Qualitative Research Study.

In this cross-sectional study, researchers looked at 10 high-school-aged individuals who had undergone ACL reconstruction surgery and had not returned to sport. They found that psychosocial barriers to return to sport (e.g., persistent uncertainty about full recovery) were reported with greater consistency than physical barriers. The authors suggest that peer mentoring groups to facilitate psychosocial support during rehabilitation might help.

Physical Parameters Beyond BMI Affect TKA Outcomes

It is well established that obese patients who undergo total joint arthroplasty have increased risks of complications and infections. But what about folks who are not obese, but are just generally large? Do they also have increased post-arthroplasty complications, compared to their smaller counterparts? That is the question Christensen et al. explored in a registry-based study in the November 7, 2018 edition of JBJS.

In addition to BMI, the authors examined 3 other physical parameters—body surface area, body mass, and height—to determine whether these less-studied characteristics (all contributing to “bigness”) were associated with an increased rate of various adverse outcomes, including mechanical failure and infection, after primary total knee arthroplasty (TKA).  They evaluated data from more than 22,000 TKAs performed at a single institution and found that the risk of any revision procedure or revision for a mechanical failure was directly associated with every 1 standard deviation increase in BMI (Hazard Ratio [HR], 1.19 and 1.15, respectively), body surface area (HR, 1.37 and 1.35, respectively), body mass (HR, 1.30 and 1.27, respectively), and height (HR, 1.22 and 1.23, respectively). In this study, 1 standard deviation was equivalent to 6.3 kg/m2 for BMI, 0.3 m2 for body surface area, 20 kg for body mass, and 10.5 cm for height.

These findings, while not all that surprising, are enlightening nonetheless. The study shows that increasing height has a greater negative impact on TKA outcomes than previously thought. While I spend a lot of time counseling patients with high BMIs about the increased risks of undergoing a TKA (and while such patients can take certain actions to lower their BMI prior to surgery), I do not spend nearly as much time counseling patients who are much taller than normal about their increased risks (and height is not a modifiable risk factor). Nor do I spend much time thinking about a patient’s overall body mass or body surface area in addition to their BMI. This study will remind me not to overlook these less commonly examined  physical parameters when discussing TKA with patients in the future.

Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media

Multisite Evaluation of a Custom Energy-Storing Carbon Fiber Orthosis for Patients with Residual Disability After Lower-Limb Trauma

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The Intrepid Dynamic Exoskeletal Orthosis (IDEO) is a custom energy-storing carbon fiber ankle-foot orthosis developed for lower-extremity trauma patients. Studies conducted at the military treatment facility where the IDEO was developed demonstrated benefits of the IDEO when used with the Return to Run Physical Therapy (RTR PT) program. The current study was designed to determine if results could be replicated at other military treatment facilities and to examine whether early performance gains in patient-reported functional outcomes remained at 12 months.

Opioid Consumption After Knee Arthroscopy

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The opioid epidemic in the United States has placed increased pressure on physicians to engage in responsible opioid prescribing practices. However, surgeons currently have little information to guide their postoperative prescription decision-making. The purpose of this study was to assess opioid consumption after knee arthroscopy and identify preoperative factors that may predict higher opioid usage.

Full Article >

Better News for TJA Patients with Depression

Mental Health Image for OBuzzOver the last 2 decades, research into how various “preexisting conditions” affect the outcomes of orthopaedic interventions has increasingly focused on the impact of mental health (a patient’s “state of mind” and coping abilities) and psychological diagnoses such as depression. The impact of mental health, depression, and personality characteristics on patient-reported outcomes following significant skeletal trauma has been well documented in the trauma literature. In addition, previous studies in knee arthroplasty have identified depression as a major factor in suboptimal patient outcomes.

In the October 17, 2018 issue of The Journal, Halawi et al. teased out the impact of depression and mental health—independently and in combination—on patient-reported outcomes following primary total joint arthroplasty (TJA) in 469 patients at a minimum follow-up of one year.

The authors used the validated SF-12 MCS instrument to assess patient baseline mental health at the time of surgery. They also used the widely accepted WOMAC score to assess joint-specific pain, stiffness, and physical function before and after surgery. Using these tools, the authors showed that, while depression alone may diminish some patient-reported gains obtained from arthroplasty, it does not seem to affect a patient’s overall outcome as much as poor mental health prior to surgery. In this study, patients with depression but good mental health achieved patient-reported outcomes comparable to those among normal controls. Still, patients without depression and in good mental health were found to have the most robust improvements after undergoing TJA.

Orthopaedic surgeons need to better understand the interplay between these complex psychological states and patient outcomes. These authors conclude that the effect of depression on patient-reported outcomes is “less pessimistic than previously thought,” but we welcome further studies examining the link between “the mind” and orthopaedic outcomes.  Finally, we should be ready to refer patients to our mental health colleagues when we detect a potential underlying nonphysical condition that might adversely affect the magnitude of benefit from the treatments we offer.

Marc Swiontkowski, MD
JBJS Editor-in-Chief