Acute management of fractures in primary care - a cost minimisation analysis

BMC Health Serv Res. 2023 Nov 23;23(1):1291. doi: 10.1186/s12913-023-10297-x.


Background: In Norway, primary healthcare has first-line responsibility for all medical emergencies, including traumas and fractures. Normally, patients with suspected fractures are referred to specialist care in hospitals. However, the cooperating municipalities of Bykle and Valle have X-ray facilities and handle minor fractures locally. The aim of this study was to estimate the costs of X-ray diagnosis and initial treatment of fractures at the local primary care centre compared with initial transport and treatment in hospital.

Methods: We conducted a cost minimisation analysis by comparing expected costs of initial examination with X-ray and treatment of patients with fractures or suspected fractures at two possible sites, in the local municipality or at the hospital. A cost minimisation analysis is an economic evaluation based on the assumption that the outcomes of the two treatment procedure regimens are equal. Costs were estimated in Euros (EUR) using 2021 mean exchange rates.

Results: In 2019, we identified a total of 403 patients with suspected fractures in the two municipalities. Among these, 12 patients bypassed the primary care system as they needed urgent hospital care. A total of 391 injured patients were assessed with X-ray at the primary health care centres, 382 received their initial treatment there, and nine were referred to hospital. In an alternative hospital model, without X-ray and treatment possibilities in the municipality, the 382 patients would have been sent directly to hospital for radiological imaging and treatment. The total cost was estimated at EUR 367,756 in the hospital model and at EUR 69,835 in the primary care model, a cost saving of EUR 297,921.

Conclusion: Based on cost minimisation analysis, this study found that radiological diagnosis of suspected fractures and initial treatment of uncomplicated fractures in primary care cost substantially less than transport to and treatment in hospital.

Keywords: Conservative treatment; Diagnosis; Economics; Evaluation; Family practice; Fractures; Primary healthcare; Teleradiology.

MeSH terms

  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Fractures, Bone* / diagnostic imaging
  • Fractures, Bone* / epidemiology
  • Fractures, Bone* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Norway
  • Primary Health Care