It has been said that outcomes of total joint arthroplasty are 90% related to surgeon factors (such as prosthetic alignment and fit and soft-tissue management), and only 10% to the implant itself. Historically, surgeon choices of implants for primary total hip and total knee arthroplasty have been based on influences such as the prostheses used during training, prior vendor relationships, specific patient characteristics, and findings in published literature. Absent evidence that the selection of prosthesis vendor affects patient outcomes to any significant degree, and with the universal focus on lowering health care costs, surgeon implant/vendor preferences have come under close scrutiny.
In the August 7, 2019 issue of The Journal, Boylan et al. study the impact of a voluntary preferred single-vendor program at a large, high-volume, urban orthopaedic hospital with >40 (mostly hospital-employed) arthroplasty surgeons. The hospital’s use of hip and knee arthroplasty implants from the preferred vendor rose from 50% to 69% during the program’s first year. In addition, the mean cost per case of cases in which implants from the preferred vendor were used were 23% lower than the mean cost-per-case numbers from the previous year (p<0.001). Boylan et al. noted that low-volume surgeons adopted the initiative at a higher rate than high-volume surgeons, and that surgeons were more compliant with using the preferred vendor for total knee implants than for total hip implants.
Why is it that some higher-volume surgeons seem resistant to change? It is not clear from the data presented in this study whether the answer is familiarity with an instrument system, loyalty to local representatives, or relationships with manufacturers based on financial or personal connections. The authors observed that “collaboration between surgeons and administrators” was a critical success factor in their program, and interestingly, the 3 highest-volume surgeons in this study (who performed an average of ≥20 qualifying cases per month) all used total knee implants from the preferred vendor prior to the initiation of this program.
The provocative findings from this and similar studies lead to many questions ripe for further research. Because hospitals are highly motivated to reduce implant costs in the bundled-payment environment, preferred-vendor programs are gathering steam. We need to better understand how they work (or don’t) for specific surgeons, within surgical departments, and within hospital/insurance systems in order to evaluate their effects on patient outcomes and maximize any cost benefits.
Marc Swiontkowski, MD