When it comes to access to many things people look for, big cities offer numerous advantages over small towns. This seems to be true for consumer goods and services—and for access to health care, especially “high-tech” procedures. That is one issue that Suchman et al. touch on in their retrospective database study in the September 19, 2018 issue of The Journal.
The study evaluated almost 650,000 patients who underwent one of three meniscal procedures (meniscectomy, meniscal repair, or meniscal allograft transplantation) in New York State from 2003 to 2015. In determining which procedures were performed where, the authors found that meniscectomies and meniscal repairs—the vast majority of the procedures performed—were scattered throughout the state, but that meniscal transplants were performed almost exclusively at urban, academic hospitals. This finding is not surprising, considering the technical complexity of allograft transplantation. However, if a patient who would benefit from a meniscal allograft lived three hours from an urban, academic setting, they would either have to travel to the city to be evaluated, treated, and followed, or settle for a different procedure from a surgeon closer to home. Neither option would be optimal in terms of quality care.
At the same time, this article emphasizes that not every patient needs to go to a large hospital to receive excellent care. While a preponderance of recent data shows an association between hospital and surgeon procedure volume and patient outcomes, those data do not mean that smaller hospitals or “medium volume” surgeons should not perform certain procedures. In fact, medium volume surgeons performed the largest proportion of meniscal procedures evaluated in this study.
The fact is that the “delivery” of health care does not happen via FedEx or UPS. The burden falls on patients to transport themselves to the physician, not vice versa. And until that model drastically changes, access disparities based on geography will likely remain.
However, Suchman et al. also found that the majority of patients who underwent any meniscal procedure had private insurance—and that Medicaid patients had the lowest rates of meniscal surgery. Although disparities arising from socioeconomic/insurance status are also very difficult to address, they would seem to be more remediable than disparities related to geography.
Chad A. Krueger, MD
JBJS Deputy Editor for Social Media
Hip arthroscopy for labral pathology and cam and pincer impingement has become increasingly established as an effective procedure in the hands of experienced surgeons. However, as with all technically complex orthopaedic procedures, success entails not only sound technique, but also appropriate patient selection, meticulous pre- and intraoperative setup, and appropriate use of intraoperative fluoroscopy. Thankfully, we have a community of leaders in arthroscopy who share and teach these details.
In the December 20, 2017 issue of The Journal, Duchman et al. use the ABOS Part-II exam database to analyze who among recent graduates of orthopaedic residencies is performing hip arthroscopies. Overall, between 2006 and 2015, the authors found that 643 of 6,987 ABOS candidates (9.2%) had performed ≥1 hip arthroscopy; nearly three-quarters of those reported sports-medicine fellowship training. More than two-thirds of candidates performing hip arthroscopy performed ≤5 such procedures; conversely, only 6.5% of those candidates performed 35% of all the hip arthroscopies identified in the database.
The concerning suggestion from these findings is that the increase in hip arthroscopy utilization comes from an increased number of individuals performing the surgery, rather than from an increase in procedure volume among individual surgeons. One question this study does not address is whether there has been an increase in the prevalence of hip pathology that warrants an increased utilization of this procedure. If not, an alternative explanation, which Wennberg et al. posit in the Dartmouth Atlas, is that procedure utilization expands in relationship to the distribution of provider resources and medical opinion in the local community.
I believe that hip arthroscopy is technically challenging and that the quality of the outcome is very likely related to the per-surgeon volume of procedures performed. This makes it incumbent upon all orthopaedists who offer this procedure to actively evaluate their outcomes with validated instruments so the practitioner and her/his patients can objectively understand and discuss what the results are likely to be.
In a commentary on this study, Rupesh Tarwala, MD calls for an outcomes analysis of patients who were treated with hip arthroscopy by ABOS Part-II candidates. I concur completely, and would more specifically ask that the cohort of surgeons evaluated in this study by Duchman et al. collect and report their 1- and 2-year outcomes to The Journal.
Marc Swiontkowski, MD
Whenever the impact of surgeon volume on patient outcomes for technically complex interventions has been assessed, the following correlation has held: the higher the surgeon volume, the better the patient outcomes. Working with us at the University of Washington in 1997, Dr. Hans Kreder was one of the first to observe this relationship in joint replacement surgery.1 Patients whose hip replacement was performed by a “high-volume” surgeon (>10 hip replacements per year) were significantly less likely to die or have an infection or revision than those whose procedure was performed by a “low-volume” surgeon (<2 hip replacements per year). This makes perfect intuitive sense—the more you do something, the better your skill, and the better the result.
In the study by Liddle et al. in the January 6, 2016 JBJS, the same volume-outcome relationship for knee arthroplasty is confirmed. The relationship is stronger for unicompartmental arthroplasty than it is for total knee arthroplasty (TKA). Again this makes intuitive sense because the “uni” procedure is more dependent on nuanced bone cuts and component placement than TKA, which relies more heavily on the use of guides and jigs.
Does this mean that the end of general orthopaedic surgeons performing joint replacement is at hand? I don’t think so. Many patients will prefer to stay in their community rather than travel to the high-volume surgeon/hospital even after being informed of the volume-outcome relationship. Additionally, joint registries and routine measurement tools now exist that can help lower-volume surgeons monitor their patient outcomes and demonstrate that their results are similar to those of higher-volume surgeons.
Ultimately, all surgeons are responsible for assessing their individual patient outcomes and making that data available for patients who are considering joint arthroplasty.
Marc Swiontkowski, MD
- Kreder HJ, Deyo RA, Koepsell T, Swiontkowski MF, Kreuter W. Relationship between the volume of total hip replacements performed by providers and the rates of postoperative complications in the state of Washington. J Bone Joint Surg [Am] 1997;79(4):485-94.