Conference Coverage

Internist comanagement of orthopedic inpatients boosts outcomes



– Comanagement of orthopedic inpatients by an internist or hospitalist can improve outcomes in myriad ways, Mary Anderson Wallace, MD, said at the annual meeting of the American College of Physicians.

She focused on patients undergoing total hip or knee arthroplasty (THA/TKA). In 2014, there were 400,000 of them under Medicare alone, accounting for $7 billion in hospitalization costs and nearly as much again in the cost of related postdischarge care.

Dr. Mary Anderson Wallace, University of Colorado, Denver Bruce Jancin/MDedge News

Dr. Mary Anderson Wallace

So, changes in management that improve key outcomes in this population by even a small increment reap huge benefits when spread across this enormous patient population, noted Dr. Wallace, an internist and hospitalist at the University of Colorado, Denver.

Among the examples she highlighted where comanagement can have a favorable impact were optimization of perioperative pain management pathways; how to handle the use of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) in patients undergoing THA/TKA; the latest thinking on the appropriateness of low-dose aspirin for deep vein thrombosis (DVT) prophylaxis; a simple way to predict postop delirium in older individuals without known dementia; how to decide which postoperative fevers warrant a costly infectious disease workup; and the optimal wait time from arrival at the hospital with a fractured hip and THA.

These are all issues where a well-informed internist/hospitalist can be of enormous assistance to a busy orthopedic surgeon in providing high-value care, she explained.

Optimizing perioperative pain management pathways

As of 2015, orthopedists ranked as the third highest prescribers of opioids. Impressively, a retrospective cohort study of 641,941 opioid-naive, privately insured patients undergoing 1 of 11 types of surgery demonstrated that TKA was associated with a 5.1-fold increased risk for subsequent chronic opioid use in the first year after surgery, compared with 18 million opioid-naive nonsurgical controls. Indeed, TKA was the highest-risk of the 11 surgical procedures examined (JAMA Intern Med. 2016 Sep 1;176[9]:1286-93).

Another study that points to a need to develop best practices for opioid prescribing in orthopedic surgery – and other types of surgery as well – was a systematic review of six studies of patients who received prescription opioid analgesics in conjunction with seven types of surgery.

Opioid oversupply was identified as a clear problem: 67%-92% of patients in the six studies reported unused opioids. Up to 71% of opioid tablets went unused, mainly because patients felt they’d achieved adequate pain control and didn’t need them. Rates of safe disposal of unused opioids were in the single digits, suggesting that overprescribing provides a large potential reservoir of opioids that can be diverted to nonmedical use (JAMA Surg. 2017 Nov 1;152[11]:1066-71).

Moreover, a recent retrospective study of more than 1 million opioid-naive patients undergoing surgery showed that 56% of them received postoperative opioids. And each additional week of use was associated with a 44% increase in the relative risk of the composite endpoint of opioid dependence, abuse, or overdose. Duration of opioid use was a stronger predictor of this adverse outcome than was dosage (BMJ. 2018 Jan 17;360:j5790).

Other studies have shown that multimodal analgesia is utilized in only 25%-50% of surgical patients, even though it is considered the standard of care. Only 20% of patients undergoing THA/TKA receive peripheral nerve and neuraxial blocks. So, there is an opportunity for optimization of perioperative pain management pathways in orthopedic surgery patients, including avoidance of unnecessary p.r.n. prescribing, to favorably impact the national opioid epidemic, Dr. Wallace observed.

A surprise benefit of multimodal pain management that includes acetaminophen and a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agent is that it markedly reduces the incidence of postoperative fevers after total joint arthroplasty, compared with opioid-based pain management.

That was demonstrated in a retrospective study of 2,417 THA/TKAs in which multimodal pain management was used, and 1,484 procedures that relied on opioid-based pain relief. All of the operations were performed by the same three orthopedic surgeons. Only 5% of patients in the multimodal pain management group developed a fever greater than 38.5 degrees Celsius during the first 5 postoperative days, compared with 25% of those in the opioid-based analgesia group.

Moreover, an infectious disease workup was ordered in 2% of the multimodal analgesia group, versus 10% in the opioid-based pain management cohort, with no difference in the positive workup rates between the two groups (Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2014 May;472[5]:1489-95).

“It’s interesting that multimodal pain management has the side effect of putting you in a better position to practice high-value care, with less fever and fewer infectious disease workups,” Dr. Wallace said.


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