Individuals and society save on knee replacement surgery, study shows

Individuals and society save on knee replacement surgery, study shows

The societal and economic savings of knee replacement surgery outweigh its costs nearly 2-fold, according to an American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons study.

The, study published this week in the peer-reviewed Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery, addresses recent scrutiny of the cost and durability of knee replacement surgery, praising the procedure as a money-saver for patients and for healthcare systems.

The average patient undergoing knee replacement surgery maintained employment and increased earnings over a longer time in the workforce, translating into indirect savings of nearly $40,000 per individual, according to the study. Fewer missed work days and lower disability payments for patients who had knee replacement therapy also resulted in an average lifetime societal benefit of $10,000-$30,000 per patient.

“We know that when a knee replacement is done on patients at the appropriate time, it adds tremendous value to their lives. It gets them back to work and back to their families. It improves their quality of life and allows them to be productive and active again,” said study co-author and past AAOS president Dr. John Tongue. “But until now, that value has been hard to quantify. This study allows patients to see the big picture of the effect on their daily lives and in the long term.”

The findings could help stem some of the concern about the high price-tag of knee surgery, especially as the procedure continues to rise in popularity.

From 1991 to 2010 the number of primary total knee arthroplasties performed in fee-for-service Medicare beneficiaries increased 162%, according to a separate study recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn. As an aging population stays in the workforce longer and obesity rates continue to climb, demand for total knee replacement surgery is expected to exceed 3 million by the year 2030 – up from 600,000 in 2009, according to recent projections. 

 “Demographics of knee replacement patients have dramatically changed as baby boomers age,” Dr. Tongue noted.  “They want and need to stay active but their joints can’t always keep up. In this economic environment, this study provides a new way of looking at cost that offers perspective to this growing population.”

The study may help pave the way for more studies examining the societal cost of other surgeries, author and health care economist Lane Koenig, Ph.D. noted.

“With the new model we created for this study, we have opened the door to evaluate societal benefit for other types of health care services as well, which is truly exciting,” Koenig said. “The benefit of successful treatment of
bone and joint conditions in the long term is known by the patients who’ve been through it, but these data offer evidence on the societal effects that will add to the conversation people are having about improved, cost-conscious health care.”

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