The economics of treating tibia fractures. The cost of delayed unions

Bull Hosp Jt Dis. 1997;56(1):63-72.


The tibia, being the most commonly fractured long bone, is associated with a high incidence of delayed union and non-union. A previously published prospective, randomized, double-blind and placebo-controlled tibia study demonstrated that pulsed, low-intensity ultrasound shortened the time to a healed fracture and significantly reduced the incidence of delayed union. The economics of treating tibia fractures has never been calculated. We have reviewed the literature pertaining to the tibia, the results of the above published tibia study, and stratified the data from that study for those patient and fracture co-morbidity factors that can influence healing of tibia fractures. Three economic models are presented with the total costs of treating a pool of 1,000 patients with tibial shaft fractures divided into two treatment paths--operative and conservative. These costs include surgery and recovery, outpatient costs, and Workers' Compensation costs for both the primary and secondary procedures, and emergency room and disability costs. The first model does not use low-intensity ultrasound and provides a summary of the costs associated with fracture treatment for each treatment path. The second model uses low-intensity ultrasound adjunctively with the conservatively treated group while the third model uses ultrasound adjunctively in both the operative and conservative groups. When comparing the conservative treatment path of Model 2 to Model 1 a cost savings of over $15,000 per case (40%) is realized by dramatically lowering secondary procedures and Workers' Compensation costs when pulsed low-intensity ultrasound is used adjunctively with conservative treatment. A similar savings of over $13,000 per case results from the use of ultrasound in the operative treatment path of Model 3 when compared with the standard operative care of Model 1. The total savings realized is over $14.6 million when adjunctively using low-intensity ultrasound in both the conservative and operative treatment paths. These analyses demonstrate that reduced healing time could yield substantial cost savings for third party payors, employers, and government agencies by lessening the need for secondary procedures and reducing the amount of Workers' Compensation payments.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Female
  • Fractures, Ununited / economics*
  • Fractures, Ununited / therapy
  • Health Care Costs*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Economic
  • Tibial Fractures / economics*
  • Tibial Fractures / therapy
  • United States