In the United States, healthcare expenditures have been soaring at a concerning rate. There has been an excessive use of postoperative radiographs after spine surgery and this has been a target for hospitals to reduce unnecessary costs. However, there are only limited data identifying the rate of instrumentation changes on radiographs after complex spine surgery involving ≥ 5-level fusions.
The medical records of 136 adult (≥ 18 years old) patients with spine deformity undergoing elective, primary complex spinal fusion (≥ 5 levels) for deformity correction at a major academic institution between 2010 and 2015 were reviewed. Patient demographics, comorbidities, and intra- and postoperative complication rates were collected for each patient. The authors reviewed the first 5 subsequent postoperative and follow-up radiographs, and determined whether revision of surgery was performed within 5 years postoperatively. The primary outcome investigated in this study was the rate of hardware changes on follow-up radiographs.
The majority of patients were female, with a mean age of 53.8 ± 20.0 years and a body mass index of 27.3 ± 6.2 kg/m2 (parametric data are expressed as the mean ± SD). The median number of fusion levels was 9 (interquartile range 7–13), with a mean length of surgery of 327.8 ± 124.7 minutes and an estimated blood loss of 1312.1 ± 1269.2 ml. The mean length of hospital stay was 6.6 ± 3.9 days, with a 30-day readmission rate of 14.0%. Postoperative and follow-up change in stability on radiographs (days from operation) included: image 1 (4.6 ± 9.3 days) 0.0%; image 2 (51.7 ± 49.9 days) 3.0%; image 3 (142.1 ± 179.8 days) 5.6%; image 4 (277.3 ± 272.5 days) 11.3%; and image 5 (463.1 ± 525.9 days) 15.7%. The 3rd year after surgery had the highest rate of hardware revision (5.55%), followed by the 2nd year (4.68%), and the 1st year (4.54%).
This study suggests that the rate of instrumentation changes on radiographs increases over time, with no changes occurring at the first postoperative image. In an era of cost-conscious healthcare, fewer orders for early radiographs after complex spinal fusions (≥ 5 levels) may not impact patient care and can reduce the overall use of healthcare resources.