Emergency Department Visits Following Elective Total Hip and Knee Replacement Surgery: Identifying Gaps in Continuity of Care

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Abstract

Background:

Major joint replacement surgical procedures are common, elective procedures with a care episode that includes both inpatient readmissions and postoperative emergency department (ED) visits. Inpatient readmissions are well studied; however, to our knowledge, little is known about ED visits following these procedures. We sought to characterize 30-day ED visits following a major joint replacement surgical procedure.

Methods:

We used administrative records from California, Florida, and New York, from 2010 through 2012, to identify adults undergoing total knee and hip arthroplasty. Factors associated with increased risk of an ED visit were estimated using hierarchical regression models controlling for patient variables with a fixed hospital effect. The main outcome was an ED visit within 30 days of discharge.

Results:

Among the 152,783 patients who underwent major joint replacement, 5,229 (3.42%) returned to the inpatient setting and 8,883 (5.81%) presented to the ED for care within 30 days. Among ED visits, 17.94% had a primary diagnosis of pain and 25.75% had both a primary and/or a secondary diagnosis of pain. Patients presenting to the ED for subsequent care had more comorbidities and were more frequently non-white with public insurance relative to those not returning to the ED (p < 0.001). There was a significantly increased risk (p < 0.05) of isolated ED visits with regard to type of insurance when patients with Medicaid (odds ratio [OR], 2.28 [95% confidence interval (CI), 2.04 to 2.55]) and those with Medicare (OR, 1.38 [95% CI, 1.29 to 1.47]) were compared with patients with private insurance and with regard to race when black patients (OR, 1.38 [95% CI, 1.25 to 1.53]) and Hispanic patients (OR, 1.12 [95% CI, 1.03 to 1.22]) were compared with white patients. These increases in risk were stronger for isolated ED visits for patients with a pain diagnosis.

Conclusions:

ED visits following an elective major joint replacement surgical procedure were numerous and most commonly for pain-related diagnoses. Medicaid patients had almost double the risk of an ED or pain-related ED visit following a surgical procedure. The future of U.S. health-care insurance coverage expansions are uncertain; however, there are ongoing attempts to improve quality across the continuum of care. It is therefore essential to ensure that all patients, particularly vulnerable populations, receive appropriate postoperative care, including pain management.

Level of Evidence:

Therapeutic Level IV. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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