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Charles A. Miller, Jason H. Boulter, Daniel J. Coughlin, Michael K. Rosner, Chris J. Neal and Michael S. Dirks

OBJECTIVE

Symptomatic cervical spondylosis with or without radiculopathy can ground an active-duty military pilot if left untreated. Surgically treated cervical spondylosis may be a waiverable condition and allow return to flying status, but a waiver is based on expert opinion and not on recent published data. Previous studies on rates of return to active duty status following anterior cervical spine surgery have not differentiated these rates among military specialty occupations. No studies to date have documented the successful return of US military active-duty pilots who have undergone anterior cervical spine surgery with cervical fusion, disc replacement, or a combination of the two. The aim of this study was to identify the rate of return to an active duty flight status among US military pilots who had undergone anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF) or total disc replacement (TDR) for symptomatic cervical spondylosis.

METHODS

The authors performed a single-center retrospective review of all active duty pilots who had undergone either ACDF or TDR at a military hospital between January 2010 and June 2017. Descriptive statistics were calculated for both groups to evaluate demographics with specific attention to preoperative flight stats, days to recommended clearance by neurosurgery, and days to return to active duty flight status.

RESULTS

Authors identified a total of 812 cases of anterior cervical surgery performed between January 1, 2010, and June 1, 2017, among active duty, reserves, dependents, and Department of Defense/Veterans Affairs patients. There were 581 ACDFs and 231 TDRs. After screening for military occupation and active duty status, there were a total of 22 active duty pilots, among whom were 4 ACDFs, 17 TDRs, and 2 hybrid constructs. One patient required a second surgery. Six (27.3%) of the 22 pilots were nearing the end of their career and electively retired within a year of surgery. Of the remaining 16 pilots, 11 (68.8%) returned to active duty flying status. The average time to be released by the neurosurgeon was 128 days, and the time to return to flying was 287 days. The average follow-up period was 12.3 months.

CONCLUSIONS

Adhering to military service-specific waiver guidelines, military pilots may return to active duty flight status after undergoing ACDF or TDR for symptomatic cervical spondylosis.

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Chris J. Neal, Kara Mandell, Ellen Tasikas, John J. Delaney, Charles A. Miller, Cody D. Schlaff and Michael K. Rosner

OBJECTIVE

Adult spinal deformity surgery is an effective way of treating pain and disability, but little research has been done to evaluate the costs associated with changes in health outcome measures. This study determined the change in quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) and the cost per QALY in patients undergoing spinal deformity surgery in the unique environment of a military healthcare system (MHS).

METHODS

Patients were enrolled between 2011 and 2017. Patients were eligible to participate if they were undergoing a thoracolumbar spinal fusion spanning more than 6 levels to treat an underlying deformity. Patients completed the 36-Item Short Form Health Survey (SF-36) prior to surgery and 6 and 12 months after surgery. The authors used paired t-tests to compare SF-36 Physical Component Summary (PCS) scores between baseline and postsurgery. To estimate the cost per QALY of complex spine surgery in this population, the authors extended the change in health-related quality of life (HRQOL) between baseline and follow-up over 5 years. Data on the cost of surgery were obtained from the MHS and include all facility and physician costs.

RESULTS

HRQOL and surgical data were available for 49 of 91 eligible patients. Thirty-one patients met additional criteria allowing for cost-effectiveness analysis. Over 12 months, patients demonstrated significant improvement (p < 0.01) in SF-36 PCS scores. A majority of patients met the minimum clinically important difference (MCID; 83.7%) and substantive clinical benefit threshold (SCBT; 83.7%). The average change in QALY was an increase of 0.08. Extended across 5 years, including the 3.5% discounting per year, study participants increased their QALYs by 0.39, resulting in an average cost per QALY of $181,649.20. Nineteen percent of patients met the < $100,000/QALY threshold with half of the patients meeting the < $100,000/QALY mark by 10 years. A sensitivity analysis showed that patients who scored below 60 on their preoperative SF-36 PCS had an average increase in QALYs of 0.10 per year or 0.47 over 5 years.

CONCLUSIONS

With a 5-year extended analysis, patients who receive spinal deformity surgery in the MHS increased their QALYs by 0.39, with 19% of patients meeting the $100,000/QALY threshold. The majority of patients met the threshold for MCID and SCBT at 1 year postoperatively. Consideration of preoperative functional status (SF-36 PCS score < 60) may be an important factor in determining which patients benefit the most from spinal deformity surgery.

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Oral Presentations

2010 AANS Annual Meeting Philadelphia, Pennsylvania May 1–5, 2010