Rib fracture fixation for flail chest: what is the benefit?

J Am Coll Surg. 2012 Aug;215(2):201-5. doi: 10.1016/j.jamcollsurg.2012.02.023. Epub 2012 May 4.


Background: Recently, rib fracture fixation for flail chest has been used increasingly at both academic and nonacademic trauma centers. Although a few small non-US studies have demonstrated a clinical benefit, it is unclear whether this benefit outweighs the added expense and potential perioperative complications related to the procedure. We therefore sought to determine if open reduction and internal fixation of ribs for flail chest (ORIF-FC) represents a cost-effective means for managing these patients.

Study design: A Markov transition state analysis was performed modeling the outcomes of the standard of care or ORIF-FC for flail chest. The incidences of ventilator-associated pneumonia, tracheostomy, sepsis, prolonged ventilation, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism, wound infection, and postoperative hemorrhage were obtained based on literature review. Medicare 2010 reimbursement costs were used for diagnoses and procedures. A quality of life improvement factor ranging from 0 to 15% improvement was used to estimate the improvement in pain and functional outcomes related to ORIF-FC. The most cost-effective treatment was then determined, ranging the incidences of ventilator-associated pneumonia and quality of life improvement factor.

Results: Cost effectiveness was $15,269 for ORIF-FC compared with $16,810 for standard of care. Even when the quality of life improvement factor was set to 0%, ORIF-FC remained the most cost-effective strategy. Similarly, ORIF-FC remained the most cost-effective strategy by $8,400 when the incidence of ventilator-associated pneumonia after ORIF was as high as 22%.

Conclusions: Despite the additional cost of surgery, rib fracture fixation dominates the standard of care and should be considered in the management of appropriate flail chest patients.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Decision Support Techniques
  • Flail Chest / economics
  • Flail Chest / etiology
  • Flail Chest / surgery*
  • Fracture Fixation, Internal / economics*
  • Humans
  • Markov Chains
  • Postoperative Complications
  • Quality of Life
  • Rib Fractures / complications
  • Rib Fractures / economics
  • Rib Fractures / surgery*
  • Treatment Outcome
  • United States
  • Young Adult