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Joel A. Finkelstein and Carolyn E. Schwartz

The purpose of this article is to review the current state of outcome measurement in spine surgery, with an emphasis on patient-reported outcome measures (PROMs). The commonly used generic and disease-specific outcome measures used in spinal surgery and research will be discussed. The authors will introduce the concepts of response shift and appraisal processes, which may affect the face validity of PROMs, as well as their interpretation over time. It is not uncommon for there to be a discrepancy between the observed and expected outcome, which is not wholly explainable by objective measures. Current work on understanding how appraisal affects outcome measurement will be discussed, and future directions will be suggested to facilitate the continued evolution of PROMs.

There has been an evolution in the way clinicians measure outcomes following spinal surgery. In moving from purely physical, objective measures to a growing emphasis on the patient’s perspective, spine surgery outcomes are better able to integrate the impact at multiple levels of relevant change. Appraisal concepts and methods are gaining traction as ways to understand the cognitive processes underlying PROMs over time. Measurement of appraisal is a valuable adjunct to the current spine outcome tools.

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Joel A. Finkelstein, Roland B. Stark, James Lee, and Carolyn E. Schwartz

OBJECTIVE

There is an increasing recognition of the importance of predictive analytics in spine surgery. This, along with the addition of personalized treatment, can optimize treatment outcomes. The goal of this study was to examine the value of clinical, demographic, expectation, and cognitive appraisal variables in predicting outcomes after surgery.

METHODS

This prospective longitudinal cohort study followed adult patients undergoing spinal decompression and/or fusion surgery for degenerative spinal conditions. The authors focused on predicting the numeric rating scale (NRS) for pain, based on past research finding it to be the most responsive of the spine patient-reported outcomes. Clinical data included type of surgery, adverse events, comorbidities, and use of pain medications. Demographics included age, sex, employment status, education, and smoking status. Data on expectations related to pain relief, ability to do household and exercise/recreational activities without pain, preventing future disability, and sleeping comfort. Appraisal items addressed 22 cognitive processes related to quality of life (QOL). LASSO (least absolute shrinkage and selection operator) and bootstrapping tested predictors hierarchically to determine effective predictive subsets at approximately 10 months postsurgery, based on data either at baseline (model 1) or at approximately 3 months (model 2).

RESULTS

The sample included 122 patients (mean age 61 years, with 53% being female). For model 1, analysis revealed better outcomes with patients expecting to be able to exercise or do recreational activities, focusing on recent events, and not focusing on how others see them (mean bootstrapped R2 [R2 boot] = 0.12). For model 2, better outcomes were predicted by expecting symptom relief, focusing on the positive and on one’s spinal condition (mean R2 boot = 0.38). Bootstrapped analyses documented the stability of parameter estimates despite the small sample.

CONCLUSIONS

Nearly 40% of the variance in spine outcomes was accounted for by cognitive factors, after adjusting for clinical and demographic factors. Different expectations and appraisal processes played a role in long- versus short-range predictions, suggesting that cognitive adaptation is important and relevant to pain relief outcomes after spine surgery. These results underscore the importance of addressing how people think about QOL and surgery outcomes to maximize the benefits of surgery.

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Carolyn E. Schwartz, Roland B. Stark, Phumeena Balasuberamaniam, Mopina Shrikumar, Abeer Wasim, and Joel A. Finkelstein

OBJECTIVE

Over the past 2 decades, spine outcome research has become more standardized in response to recommendations from Deyo and others. By using the same generic and condition-specific patient-reported outcome (PRO) measures across studies, results are more easily compared. Given the challenges of maintaining high-quality data in clinical research studies, it would be important to evaluate the contribution of each PRO to confirm that it merits the respondent burden. This study aimed to examine the spine PROs’ association with clinically important change and relative responsiveness in explaining variance in patients’ global assessment of change (GAC).

METHODS

This prospective longitudinal cohort study included adults recruited from 4 active spine surgery practices at a Toronto-based hospital. Patients were diagnosed with a degenerative lumbar spinal condition and underwent spinal decompression and/or fusion surgery. Participants completed the RAND-36 (to generate the physical component score [PCS] and mental component score [MCS]), Oswestry Disability Index (ODI), the numeric rating scale (NRS) for pain, Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS) pain interference, and a GAC item. Random-effects models were used to investigate the sensitivity of PROs to the GAC and their responsiveness over time (i.e., PRO main effects and PRO-by-time interactions, respectively).

RESULTS

The study sample included 168 patients (mean age 61 years, 50% female) with preoperative and up to 12 months of postoperative data. Random-effects models revealed significant main effects for all PROs. Significant time-by-PRO interactions were detected for the PCS, PROMIS, ODI, and NRS (p < 0.0005 in all cases), but not for the MCS. Further examination revealed different sensitivity of the PROs to the GAC at different times. The NRS, PROMIS, and PCS showed higher sensitivity early after surgery, and the PCS evinced a marked drop in sensitivity to the GAC at about 8 months postsurgery.

CONCLUSIONS

All PROs currently included in the spine outcome core measures are associated with patients’ subjective assessment of a clinically important change, and all but the MCS scores are responsive to such change. Based on these findings, the core spine PROs could be reduced to include fewer estimates of pain. The authors suggest replacing the less responsive measures with tools that help to characterize factors that are driving the patients’ subjective assessment of change and that meaningfully address some of the higher levels in the hierarchy of quality-of-life outcomes.