Mortality by Timing of Hip Fracture Surgery: Factors and Relationships at Play

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Abstract

In hip fracture care, it is disputed whether mortality worsens when surgery is delayed. This knowledge gap matters when hospital managers seek to justify resource allocation for prioritizing access to one procedure over another. Uncertainty over the surgical timing-death association leads to either surgical prioritization without benefit or the underuse of expedited surgery when it could save lives. The discrepancy in previous findings results in part from differences between patients who happened to undergo surgery at different times. Such differences may produce the statistical association between surgical timing and death in the absence of a causal relationship. Previous observational studies attempted to adjust for structure, process, and patient factors that contribute to death, but not for relationships between structure and process factors, or between patient and process factors. In this article, we (1) summarize what is known about the factors that influence, directly or indirectly, both the timing of surgery and the occurrence of death; (2) construct a dependency graph of relationships among these factors based explicitly on the existing literature; (3) consider factors with a potential to induce covariation of time to surgery and the occurrence of death, directly or through the network of relationships, thereby explaining a putative surgical timing-death association; and (4) show how age, sex, dependent living, fracture type, hospital type, surgery type, and calendar period can influence both time to surgery and occurrence of death through chains of dependencies. We conclude by discussing how these results can inform the allocation of surgical capacity to prevent the avoidable adverse consequences of delaying hip fracture surgery.

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