The Economic Impact of Orthopedic Conditions

147061273-300x200In a field known for its advances in restoring mobility and reducing pain for patients at every stage of life, it’s sometimes surprising how much negative press is generated around the high cost of orthopedic surgery. What’s often ignored in such media campaigns is the significant positive economic impact of adopting a preventative approach toward joint health to help restore productivity in America’s active workers and increase mobility and independence for retired senior citizens.

To help shed light on the question of musculoskeletal research and repair costs, the board of directors of the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) commissioned a study they hoped would help patients and medical professionals alike to shift their viewpoints on the vital importance of orthopedics, recognizing orthopedic care and surgery as investments in the productivity of society.

High Economic Costs

It’s no secret that rising expenses for medical implant devices, drugs and other vital hardware and supplies has resulted in skyrocketing medical bills over the last few decades. With medical supplies and devices comprising the largest portion of the inpatient healthcare cost pie at 24.2 percent, physicians of all specialties know controlling these costs is key to managing the future of healthcare. When coupled with the complex roots of escalating health insurance premiums, Americans are facing a medical system with a steeply upward-trending bottom line.

When considering musculoskeletal and orthopedic care in reference to the entire medical field, it’s important to remember that all specialties face the same challenge of increasing costs. However, since orthopedic surgeries are more dependent on implantable devices and equipment than some other specialties, this segment may share an unfair portion of the expense load. Currently, musculoskeletal disease expenses comprise five percent of the US gross domestic product, a hefty $510 billion.

Significant Societal and Economic Benefits

By focusing solely on expenses, though, a major piece of the puzzle is overlooked—namely, the indirect negative economic impact triggered by lost productivity resulting from orthopedic injury, which is also significant. For American workers and employers, the price of untreated orthopedic illness and injuries is clear:

* Increased workers’ compensation and disability insurance costs

* Reduced work schedules or missed shifts due to pain and immobility

* Extreme burdens to programs such as Medicaid and other forms of public assistance

In the orthopedic field as in so many other aspects of society, sometimes the expense of doing nothing far exceeds the investment of taking positive action to restore health.

Orthopedic Surgeons Help America Get Back to Work

Consider the impact of just one widely used orthopedic procedure: total knee replacement (arthoplasty). Nearly 90 percent of patients successfully return to work and life pain-free following this

surgery. A 2013 study published in the “Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery” determined the potential lifetime societal benefit for each patient having a successful total knee replacement to be between $10,000 and $30,000. That’s an astounding $12 billion savings from the more than 600,000 such procedures performed domestically each year.

Yet, when many knee replacement surgeries can be avoided through the use of restorative techniques earlier in treatment, how much more could be saved if these preventative procedures were routinely covered by health insurance? The upfront cost of preservative care is minimal compared to the potential savings that could be enjoyed by individual and healthcare system alike.

While the costs of musculoskeletal surgeries and therapies may be high, the benefits are undeniable. Smart orthopedists are helping to spread the word about these benefits to help shift Americans’ perspectives about these life-changing and independence-restoring procedures.