Importance: Orthopedic injury is assumed to bear negative socioeconomic consequences. However, the magnitude and duration of a fracture's impact on patient income and social insurance benefits remain poorly quantified.
Objective: To characterize the association between orthopedic injury and patient income using state tax records.
Design, setting, and participants: This cohort study included adult patients surgically treated for an orthopedic fracture at a US academic trauma center from January 2003 through December 2014. Hospital data were linked to individual-level state tax records using a difference-in-differences analysis performed from November 2019 through August 2020. The control group comprised of data resampled from fracture patients at least 6 years prior to injury.
Exposures: An operatively treated fracture of the appendicular skeleton.
Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome was individual annual earnings up to 5 years postinjury. Secondary outcomes included annual household income and US Social Security benefits for 5 years postinjury and catastrophic wage loss within 2 years of injury.
Results: A total of 9997 fracture patients (mean [SD] age, 44.6 [18.9] years; 6725 [67.3%] men) to 34 570 prefracture control participants (mean [SD] age, 40.0 [20.5] years; 21 666 [62.7%] men). The median (interquartile range) of preinjury wage earnings was $16 847 ($0 to $52 221). The mean annual decline in individual earnings during the 5 years following injury was $9865 (95% CI, -$10 686 to -$8862). Annual household income declined by $5259 (95% CI, -$6337 to -$4181) over the same period. A fracture was associated with a $206 (95% CI, $147 to $265) mean annual increase in Social Security benefits in the 5 years after injury. An injury increased the risk of catastrophic wage loss by 11.6% (95% CI, 10.5% to 12.7%). Substantial relative income loss was observed in patients with preinjury earnings in the top 3 quartiles, but changes in income were negligible for patients with preinjury earnings in the bottom quartile (19%; 95% CI, -4% to 48%).
Conclusions and relevance: In this cohort study of patients surgically treated for an orthopedic fracture at a US academic trauma center, fractures were associated with substantial individual and household income loss up to 5 years after injury, and 1 in 5 patients sustained catastrophic income loss in the 2 years after fracture. Gains in Social Security benefits offset less than 10% of annual income losses.