Variation in Orthopaedic Surgeons’ Perceptions About the Indications for Rotator Cuff Surgery

Background: Epidemiologic studies have demonstrated substantial variations in per capita rates of many surgical procedures, including rotator cuff repair. The purpose of the current study was to characterize orthopaedic surgeons’ attitudes concerning medical decision-making about rotator cuff surgery and to investigate the associations between these beliefs and reported surgical volumes.

Methods: A survey was mailed to randomly selected orthopaedic surgeons listed in the American Academy of Ortho- paedic Surgeons directory. Only individuals who had treated patients for a rotator cuff tear, or had referred patients for such treatment, within the previous year were asked to complete the two-page survey. The survey comprised fif- teen questions regarding clinical opinion, including four regarding hypothetical cases. Clinical agreement was defined as >80% of the respondents answering similarly.

Results: Of the 1100 surveys that were mailed, 539 were returned (a response rate of 49%). Of the 539 respondents, 316 (58.6%) had treated or referred patients with a rotator cuff tear in the previous year. There was a significant nega- tive correlation between the surgeon’s estimation of the failure rate of cuff repairs in the United States and that sur- geon’s procedure volume (r = −0.21, p = 0.0003), indicating that surgeons with a lower procedure volume are more pessimistic about the results of surgery than are those with a higher procedure volume. Arthroscopic, mini-open, and open cuff repairs were preferred by 14.5%, 46.2%, and 36.6% of the respondents, respectively. Surgeons who per- formed a higher volume of procedures were less likely to perform open surgery (p < 0.0001). There was clinical agree- ment regarding only four of the nine clinical questions and none of the four questions about the hypothetical vignettes.

Conclusions: We found significant variation in surgical decision-making and a lack of clinical agreement among or- thopaedic surgeons about rotator cuff surgery. There was a positive correlation between the volume of procedures performed by the surgeon and the surgeon’s perception of outcome, with surgeons who had a higher procedure vol- ume being more enthusiastic about rotator cuff surgery than those who had a lower procedure volume.

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