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Benjamin D. Kuhns, Daniel Lubelski, Matthew D. Alvin, Jason S. Taub, Matthew J. McGirt, Edward C. Benzel and Thomas E. Mroz


Infections following spine surgery negatively affect patient quality of life (QOL) and impose a significant financial burden on the health care system. Postoperative wound infections occur at higher rates following dorsal cervical procedures than ventral procedures. Quantifying the health outcomes and costs associated with infections following dorsal cervical procedures may help to guide treatment strategies to minimize the deleterious consequences of these infections. Therefore, the goals of this study were to determine the cost and QOL outcomes affecting patients who developed deep wound infections following subaxial dorsal cervical spine fusions.


The authors identified 22 (4.0%) of 551 patients undergoing dorsal cervical fusions who developed deep wound infections requiring surgical debridement. These patients were individually matched with control patients who did not develop infections. Health outcomes were assessed using the EQ-5D, Pain Disability Questionnaire (PDQ), Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9), and visual analog scale (VAS). QOL outcome measures were collected preoperatively and after 6 and 12 months. Health resource utilization was recorded from patient electronic medical records over an average follow-up of 18 months. Direct costs were estimated using Medicare national payment amounts, and indirect costs were based on patients' missed workdays and income.


No significant differences in preoperative QOL scores were found between the 2 cohorts. At 6 months postsurgery, the noninfection cohort had significant pre- to postoperative improvement in EQ-5D (p = 0.02), whereas the infection cohort did not (p = 0.2). The noninfection cohort also had a significantly higher 6-month postoperative EQ-5D scores than the infection cohort (p = 0.04). At 1 year postsurgery, there was no significant difference in EQ-5D scores between the groups. Health care–associated costs for the infection cohort were significantly higher ($16,970 vs $7658; p < 0.0001). Indirect costs for the infection cohort and the noninfection cohort were $6495 and $2756, respectively (p = 0.03). Adjusted for inflation, the total costs for the infection cohort were $21,778 compared with $9159 for the noninfection cohort, reflecting an average cost of $12,619 associated with developing a postoperative deep wound infection (p < 0.0001).


Dorsal cervical infections temporarily decrease patient QOL postoperatively, but with no long-term impact; they do, however, dramatically increase the cost of care. Knowledge of the financial burden of wound infections following dorsal cervical fusion may stimulate the development and use of improved prophylactic and therapeutic techniques to manage this serious complication.