A successful nerve transfer surgery can provide a wealth of benefits to a patient with cervical spinal cord injury. The process of surgical decision making ideally uses all pertinent information to produce the best functional outcome. Reliance on clinical examination and imaging studies alone can miss valuable information on the state of spinal cord health. In this regard, neurophysiological evaluation has the potential to effectively gauge the neurological status of even select pools of anterior horn cells and their axons to small nerve branches in question to determine the potential efficacy of their use in a transfer. If available preoperatively, knowledge gained from such an evaluation could significantly alter the reconstructive surgical plan and avoid poor results. The authors describe their institution’s approach to the assessment of patients with cervical spinal cord injury who are being considered for nerve transfer surgery in both the acute and chronic setting and broadly review the neurophysiological techniques used.
Ross M. Mandeville, Justin M. Brown, and Geoffrey L. Sheean
Arvin R. Wali, David R. Santiago-Dieppa, Justin M. Brown, and Ross Mandeville
Pan–brachial plexus injury (PBPI), involving C5–T1, disproportionately affects young males, causing lifelong disability and decreased quality of life. The restoration of elbow flexion remains a surgical priority for these patients. Within the first 6 months of injury, transfer of spinal accessory nerve (SAN) fascicles via a sural nerve graft or intercostal nerve (ICN) fascicles to the musculocutaneous nerve can restore elbow flexion. Beyond 1 year, free-functioning muscle transplantation (FFMT) of the gracilis muscle can be used to restore elbow flexion. The authors present the first cost-effectiveness model to directly compare the different treatment strategies available to a patient with PBPI. This model assesses the quality of life impact, surgical costs, and possible income recovered through restoration of elbow flexion.
A Markov model was constructed to simulate a 25-year-old man with PBPI without signs of recovery 4.5 months after injury. The management options available to the patient were SAN transfer, ICN transfer, delayed FFMT, or no treatment. Probabilities of surgical success rates, quality of life measurements, and disability were derived from the published literature. Cost-effectiveness was defined using incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICERs) defined by the ratio between costs of a treatment strategy and quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) gained. A strategy was considered cost-effective if it yielded an ICER less than a willingness-to-pay of $50,000/QALY gained. Probabilistic sensitivity analysis (PSA) was performed to address parameter uncertainty.
The base case model demonstrated a lifetime QALYs of 22.45 in the SAN group, 22.0 in the ICN group, 22.3 in the FFMT group, and 21.3 in the no-treatment group. The lifetime costs of income lost through disability and interventional/rehabilitation costs were $683,400 in the SAN group, $727,400 in the ICN group, $704,900 in the FFMT group, and $783,700 in the no-treatment group. Each of the interventional modalities was able to dramatically improve quality of life and decrease lifelong costs. A Monte Carlo PSA demonstrated that at a willingness-to-pay of $50,000/QALY gained, SAN transfer dominated in 88.5% of iterations, FFMT dominated in 7.5% of iterations, ICN dominated in 3.5% of iterations, and no treatment dominated in 0.5% of iterations.
This model demonstrates that nerve transfer surgery and muscle transplantation are cost-effective strategies in the management of PBPI. These reconstructive neurosurgical modalities can improve quality of life and lifelong earnings through decreasing disability.
Arvin R. Wali, Charlie C. Park, Justin M. Brown, and Ross Mandeville
Peripheral nerve transfers to regain elbow flexion via the ulnar nerve (Oberlin nerve transfer) and median nerves are surgical options that benefit patients. Prior studies have assessed the comparative effectiveness of ulnar and median nerve transfers for upper trunk brachial plexus injury, yet no study has examined the cost-effectiveness of this surgery to improve quality-adjusted life years (QALYs). The authors present a cost-effectiveness model of the Oberlin nerve transfer and median nerve transfer to restore elbow flexion in the adult population with upper brachial plexus injury.
Using a Markov model, the authors simulated ulnar and median nerve transfers and conservative measures in terms of neurological recovery and improvements in quality of life (QOL) for patients with upper brachial plexus injury. Transition probabilities were collected from previous studies that assessed the surgical efficacy of ulnar and median nerve transfers, complication rates associated with comparable surgical interventions, and the natural history of conservative measures. Incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICERs), defined as cost in dollars per QALY, were calculated. Incremental cost-effectiveness ratios less than $50,000/QALY were considered cost-effective. One-way and 2-way sensitivity analyses were used to assess parameter uncertainty. Probabilistic sampling was used to assess ranges of outcomes across 100,000 trials.
The authors' base-case model demonstrated that ulnar and median nerve transfers, with an estimated cost of $5066.19, improved effectiveness by 0.79 QALY over a lifetime compared with conservative management. Without modeling the indirect cost due to loss of income over lifetime associated with elbow function loss, surgical treatment had an ICER of $6453.41/QALY gained. Factoring in the loss of income as indirect cost, surgical treatment had an ICER of −$96,755.42/QALY gained, demonstrating an overall lifetime cost savings due to increased probability of returning to work. One-way sensitivity analysis demonstrated that the model was most sensitive to assumptions about cost of surgery, probability of good surgical outcome, and spontaneous recovery of neurological function with conservative treatment. Two-way sensitivity analysis demonstrated that surgical intervention was cost-effective with an ICER of $18,828.06/QALY even with the authors' most conservative parameters with surgical costs at $50,000 and probability of success of 50% when considering the potential income recovered through returning to work. Probabilistic sampling demonstrated that surgical intervention was cost-effective in 76% of cases at a willingness-to-pay threshold of $50,000/QALY gained.
The authors' model demonstrates that ulnar and median nerve transfers for upper brachial plexus injury improves QALY in a cost-effective manner.
Justin M. Brown, Mark A. Mahan, Ross Mandeville, and Bob S. Carter
Neurosurgery is experiencing the emergence of a new subspecialty focused on function restoration. New, evolving, and reappraised surgical procedures have provided an opportunity to restore function to many patients with previously undertreated disorders. Candidates for reconstruction were previously limited to those with peripheral nerve and brachial plexus injuries, but this has been expanded to include stroke, spinal cord injury, and a host of other paralyzing disorders affecting both upper and lower motor neurons. Similar to the recent evolution of the well-established subdisciplines of spinal and vascular neurosurgery, reconstructive neurosurgery requires the adaptation of techniques and skills that were not traditionally a part of neurosurgical training. Neurosurgeons—as the specialists who already manage this patient population and possess the requisite surgical skills to master the required techniques—have a unique opportunity to lead the development of this field. The full development of this subspecialty will lay the foundation for the subsequent addition of emerging treatments, such as neuroprosthetics and stem cell–based interventions. As such, reconstructive neurosurgery represents an important aspect of neurosurgical training that can ameliorate many of the deficits encountered in the traditional practice of neurosurgery.