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Rajiv K. Sethi, Caroline E. Drolet, Rebecca P. Pumpian, Jesse Shen, Kelsey Hanson, Sofia Guerra, and Philip K. Louie


Measuring costs across entire episodes of care, time-driven activity-based costing (TDABC) has recently been described as a novel cost accounting arm of value-based care organizations. Lean methodology is a system used to understand pathways of care at a granular level, allowing for standardization. The current work presents an attempt at combining the 2 methodologies to detect meaningful variation in a patient’s care following single-level spine fusion. The objective of this study was to evaluate the combination of TDABC and lean methodologies in detecting meaningful variability in time-based care in patients undergoing single-level spine fusion surgery.


This study is a consecutive case series of patients who underwent single-level spine fusion performed by 1 of 5 fellowship-trained spine surgeons. Patients were diagnosed with either lumbar stenosis or spondylolisthesis. Additional inclusion criteria included inpatient stays from 1 to 3 days, discharge to home, and no readmission within 30 days of surgery. Patient demographic data were obtained. Time spent on activities for each personnel role was aggregated in 15-minute increments occurring preoperatively, intraoperatively, and postoperatively. Patients were analyzed in 3 groups based on the duration of their in-hospital stay.


Patients discharged on postoperative day (POD) 3 had statistically significantly more total time spent than those discharged on POD 2. Patients discharged on POD 1 had less total time than those in the former 2 groups. The amount of time spent with patients did not differ for personnel in either preoperative or postanesthesia care unit phases of care. There was a statistically significant difference in time spent in surgery for surgeons, anesthesia attendings, circulators, and scrub technicians.


In a healthcare setting run by lean methodology, TDABC may detect meaningful variability in an episode of care for single-level spine fusion. Clinicians and administrators can use this combination to allocate costs appropriately, optimize value care streams, and help improve patient care.