An elevated International Normalized Ratio (INR)—a standardized gauge for how long it takes blood to clot—is rarely a good sign when someone is about to undergo an elective orthopaedic procedure. This is especially true for larger surgeries such as total hip or knee arthroplasty, in which there are already concerns about perioperative bleeding. Excessive surgery-related blood loss can lead to wound complications, increased length of hospital stay, and higher mortality rates. But what precisely constitutes an “elevated” INR? While some recommendations suggest that elective procedures be performed only when a patient’s INR is ≤1.5, the evidence supporting this recommendation, especially in the setting of total knee arthroplasty (TKA), is sparse at best.
In the March 20, 2019 issue of The Journal, Rudasill et al. use the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program (NSQIP) database to help define what “elevated” should mean in the context of TKA. They evaluated data from >21,000 patients who underwent a TKA between 2010 and 2016 and who also had an INR level reported within one day before their joint replacement. They stratified these patients based on their INR levels (≤1, >1 to 1.25, >1.25 to 1.5, and >1.5). Using multivariate regression analysis to adjust for patient demographics and comorbidities, the authors found a progressively increasing risk of bleeding requiring transfusion for each group with an INR >1 (odds ratios of 1.19, 1.29 and 2.02, respectively). Relative to patients with an INR of ≤1, Rudasill et al. also found a significantly increased risk of infection in TKA patients with an INR >1.5 (odds ratio 5.34), and an increased risk of mortality within 30 days of surgery among patients with an INR >1.25 to 1.5 (odds ratio 3.37). Lastly, rates of readmission and the length of stay were significantly increased in patients with an INR >1.25.
While there are certainly weaknesses inherent in using the NSQIP dataset, this study is the first to carefully evaluate the impact of slight INR elevations on post-TKA morbidity and mortality. While I was not surprised that increasing INR levels were associated with increased bleeding events, I was impressed by the profound differences in length of stay, infection, and mortality between patients with an INR ≤1 and those with an INR >1.25. I agree with the authors’ conclusion that “current guidelines for a target INR of <1.5 should be reconsidered for patients undergoing TKA.” Further, based on the risks highlighted in this study, prospective or propensity matched cohort studies should be performed to help determine whether anyone with an INR >1 should undergo a TKA.
Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media
Concerns have arisen that the implementation of value-based, alternative payment models pegged to “bundled” episodes of care and/or patient outcomes may make it harder for a subset of patients to access the care they need. Specifically, some surgeons may be apprehensive to treat patients who have substantial medical comorbidities or socioeconomic situations that increase their risk of postsurgical complications and poor outcomes, because these alternative payment models often financially penalize physicians and hospitals for the cost of suboptimal results. The study by Shau et al. in the December 5, 2018 issue of The Journal provides data that sharpens the horns of this dilemma.
The authors used the National Readmissions Database to perform a propensity-score-matched comparison between >5,300 patients with Medicaid payer status who underwent a primary total hip arthroplasty (THA) and an equal number of patients with other types of insurance who also underwent primary THA. Shau et al. found that Medicaid-covered THA patients had significantly increased overall readmission rates (28.8% vs 21%, p <0.001, relative risk=1.37), mean length of stay (4.5 vs 3.3 days, p <0.0001), and mean total cost of care ($71,110 vs $65,309, p <0.0001), relative to the other group. These results strongly suggest that Medicaid payer status is an independent factor associated with increased resource utilization after total hip arthroplasty.
These findings can be viewed from a couple of different perspectives. First, from a preventive standpoint, surgeons and healthcare systems providing THA for Medicaid patients may need to spend more time preoperatively optimizing these patients (both physically and psychosocially) to decrease their postoperative resource burden and increase the likelihood of a good clinical outcome. Second, these results are further proof that any fair and effective alternative payment model needs to take into consideration factors such as Medicaid payer status and patient comorbidities. If they do not, such models will actually throw access barriers in front of patients in this demographic because providers may feel that caring for them increases the likelihood of being penalized financially.
Both perspectives are valid, so Medicaid payer status is a crucial factor to consider as alternative payment programs move forward. Nowadays, controlling costs is an important goal of any healthcare delivery system, but it must not lead to unintended discrimination in patient access to care. As we create further alternative payment models and refine existing ones, we must be careful not to prioritize cost cutting ahead of equitable patient access.
Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media
The phrase “adverse event” has been defined variably in the orthopaedic literature, which is one reason identifying the factors associated with such events can be tricky. In the August 16, 2017 edition of The Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, Millstone et al. go a long way toward pinpointing modifiable factors that boost the risk of adverse events.
Using an institution-wide adverse-event reporting system called OrthoSAVES, the authors analyzed adverse events among 2,146 patients who underwent one of three elective orthopaedic procedures: knee replacement, hip replacement, or spinal fusion. They found an overall adverse event rate of 27%, broken down by surgical site as follows:
- 29% for spine
- 27% for knee
- 25% for hip
The most common adverse events had a low severity grade (1 or 2); the authors suggest that including events typically not viewed as severe (such as urinary retention) is one reason the overall adverse event rate in this study was higher than most previously reported.
The unique finding from this study was that two modifiable factors—length of stay and increasing operative duration—were independently associated with a greater risk of an adverse event. More specifically, the authors found that, regardless of surgical site, each additional 30 minutes of surgery increased the adjusted odds for an adverse event by 13%.
The authors were quick to point out that their findings should not be interpreted as an admonition for surgeons to hurry up. “While operative duration may be a modifiable factor, operating more quickly for spinal or any other procedures may, itself, lead to increased complications,” they wrote. Rather, Millstone et al. suggest that the multiple factors comprising “procedural efficiency” during a surgical hospitalization warrant further investigation.
In the September 7, 2016 issue of The Journal, Sutton III et al. report results from a sophisticated analysis of the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program (NSQIP) database confirming that hospital discharge 0 to 2 days after total joint arthroplasty (TJA) is safe in select patients in terms of 30-day major-complication and readmission rates. Large dataset analyses like this represent the next step in confirming what has been going on at the grass-roots level across the world—a movement toward outpatient TJAs and/or very early discharges following those procedures. (See related “Global Forum” article in the July 6, 2016 JBJS.)
This trend has been associated with very high patient satisfaction and low morbidity. The movement away from multiple-day hospital admission and toward rapid discharge to home or alternative postoperative care environments such as hotels or rehabilitation centers has far surpassed the novelty stage and is under way in every major metropolitan area around the world. The trend is a welcome motivation for us to address patient expectations for the postoperative period, which are specifically linked to more judicious use of narcotic medication accompanied by regional and local anesthetic efforts and liberal use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication. Total joint replacement is the ideal surgical intervention to lead this no- or short-hospitalization movement because of the standardized surgical approaches and requirements for implants, blood-loss management, and thromboprophylaxis.
I envision a time in the not-too-distant future where 80% to 90% of musculoskeletal post-intervention care takes place outside of the hospital environment, a shift that will require efficient use of remote-monitoring technology and continued improvement in post-intervention pain management. Hospitals will then become the setting for very complex events like organ transplantation, appropriate intensive care, and high-level trauma care. This will result in lowering the overall cost of care, improving patient satisfaction (who among us would not rather sleep in our own bed?), and minimizing nosocomial complications.
Marc Swiontkowski, MD
A team-based Perioperative Surgical Home (PSH) model helped reduce length of hospital stay and increase the chances of home rather than nursing-facility discharge for 405 total knee arthroplasty (TKA) patients, relative to 546 TKA patients who received usual care.
Although there were no significant differences in 30-day readmission rates between the two groups, average length of hospital stay for the PSH group was 1.9 days versus 3.2 days for the usual-care group. Only 6% of PSH patients went to a skilled nursing facility after hospital discharge, compared with 20% in the usual-care group. Using current cost structures, the Kaiser Permanente researchers estimated a total savings of $942,000, two-thirds from shorter hospital stays and a third from bypassing skilled nursing facilities.
The PSH teams were led by anesthesiologists, and the results were reported at the 2014 annual meeting of the American Society of Anesthesiologists. Preoperative medical optimization, an important aspect of this care model, began with appointments with anesthesiologists 3 to 14 days prior to scheduled surgery. The authors do not specifically cite orthopaedic surgeon involvement on these teams, but there’s every reason to believe surgeons did participate—and that surgeons could lead such teams.