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Open Access Research article

Tibia shaft fractures: costly burden of nonunions

Evgeniya Antonova*, T Kim Le, Russel Burge and John Mershon

Author Affiliations

Eli Lilly and Company, Indianapolis, USA

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BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2013, 14:42  doi:10.1186/1471-2474-14-42

Published: 26 January 2013

Abstract

Background

Tibia shaft fractures (TSF) are common for men and women and cause substantial morbidity, healthcare use, and costs. The impact of nonunions on healthcare use and costs is poorly described. Our goal was to investigate patient characteristics and healthcare use and costs associated with TSF in patients with and without nonunion.

Methods

We retrospectively analyzed medical claims in large U.S. managed care claims databases (Thomson Reuters MarketScan®, 16 million lives). We studied patients ≥ 18 years old with a TSF diagnosis (ICD-9 codes: 823.20, 823.22, 823.30, 823.32) in 2006 with continuous pharmaceutical and medical benefit enrollment 1 year prior and 2 years post-fracture. Nonunion was defined by ICD-9 code 733.82 (after the TSF date).

Results

Among the 853 patients with TSF, 99 (12%) had nonunion. Patients with nonunion had more comorbidities (30 vs. 21, pre-fracture) and were more likely to have their TSF open (87% vs. 70%) than those without nonunion. Patients with nonunion were more likely to have additional fractures during the 2-year follow-up (of lower limb [88.9% vs. 69.5%, P < 0.001], spine or trunk [16.2% vs. 7.2%, P = 0.002], and skull [5.1% vs. 1.3%, P = 0.008]) than those without nonunion. Nonunion patients were more likely to use various types of surgical care, inpatient care (tibia and non-tibia related: 65% vs. 40%, P < 0.001) and outpatient physical therapy (tibia-related: 60% vs. 42%, P < 0.001) than those without nonunion. All categories of care (except emergency room costs) were more expensive in nonunion patients than in those without nonunion: median total care cost $25,556 vs. $11,686, P < 0.001. Nonunion patients were much more likely to be prescribed pain medications (99% vs. 92%, P = 0.009), especially strong opioids (90% vs. 76.4%, P = 0.002) and had longer length of opioid therapy (5.4 months vs. 2.8 months, P < 0.001) than patients without nonunion. Tibia fracture patterns in men differed from those in women.

Conclusions

Nonunions in TSF’s are associated with substantial healthcare resource use, common use of strong opioids, and high per-patient costs. Open fractures are associated with higher likelihood of nonunion than closed ones. Effective screening of nonunion risk may decrease this morbidity and subsequent healthcare resource use and costs.

Keywords:
Tibia shaft fractures; Nonunions; Healthcare resource utilization; Costs; Opioids