Association of Postoperative Infections After Fractures With Long-term Income Among Adults

JAMA Netw Open. 2021 Apr 1;4(4):e216673. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.6673.


Importance: Postoperative infections after a fracture exert tremendous costs on the health care system. However, the patient economic burden associated with a postoperative infection is unclear.

Objective: To evaluate the association between a postoperative infection and long-term income among patients with surgically treated fractures.

Design, setting, and participants: A retrospective cohort study linked academic trauma center data with Maryland tax records using inverse probability of treatment weighting to estimate between-group differences among 11 673 adults who underwent surgery to treat fractures of the extremities or pelvis between January 1, 2003, and December 31, 2016. Statistical analysis was performed from November 5, 2019, to August 30, 2020.

Exposure: A postoperative infection within 1 year of injury.

Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome was the annual household income up to 6 years after injury. Household income incorporates multiple types of income, including wage earnings, taxable Social Security benefits, workers' compensation, and disability benefits. Secondary outcomes included individual earnings, Social Security benefits, unemployment benefits, and catastrophic income loss.

Results: The study included 11 673 patients (7756 male patients [66.4%]; mean [SD] age, 45.2 [19.2] years) with a mean (SD) preinjury household income of $30 505 ($89 030). A total of 403 patients (3.5%) had a postoperative infection. Postoperative infections were associated with a $6080 annual decrease (95% CI, -$12 114 to -$47; P = .048) in household income in the 6 years after injury. Postoperative infections were associated with a 6.6% increase (95% CI, 4.9%-8.3%; P < .001) in the risk of catastrophic wage loss within 2 years of the fracture and were associated with a 45% increase in the odds of receiving Social Security benefits (odds ratio, 1.45; 95% CI, 1.25-1.68; P < .001). However, incurring a postoperative infection was not associated with an increase in the value of the Social Security benefits received.

Conclusions and relevance: This study suggests that postoperative infections have significant and sustained income-associated implications for patients who experience a fracture. Current Social Security mechanisms may not offset the decreased income.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Fracture Fixation*
  • Fractures, Bone / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Income / statistics & numerical data*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Salaries and Fringe Benefits
  • Social Security
  • Surgical Wound Infection / epidemiology*