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Distal Radial Fracture Treatment: What You Get May Depend on Your Age and Address

Fanuele, Jason MD; Koval, Kenneth J. MD; Lurie, Jon MD; Zhou, Weiping PhD; Tosteson, Anna ScD; Ring, David MD, PhD

Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery - American Volume: 01 June 2009 - Volume 91 - Issue 6 - p 1313–1319
doi: 10.2106/JBJS.H.00448
Scientific Articles

Background: Distal radial fractures are common and confer a considerable financial burden on the health-care system; however, controversy surrounds the optimal treatment of these injuries. This study was performed to determine (1) the rate of distal radial fractures in the U.S. Medicare population stratified by hospital referral region and (2) whether the type of fracture treatment is affected by patient age, race, sex, comorbidity, or hospital referral region.

Methods: A 20% sample of Medicare Part-B claims from the years 1998 through 2004 was analyzed. Procedural codes for nonoperative treatment, percutaneous fixation, and open reduction and internal fixation of distal radial fractures were identified. These codes were then used to determine the overall rate of distal radial fracture. The rates of distal radial fracture were then evaluated according to hospital referral region and patient age, sex, comorbidity, and race. The types of treatment were determined and were also analyzed on the basis of hospital referral region and patient age, sex, comorbidity, and race. Regression analysis was performed with use of the above variables.

Results: We identified 107,190 patients. The rate of distal radial fracture was 125 per 10,000 Medicare beneficiaries. The rate of the fracture in white individuals (136 per 10,000) was more than twice that in non-white individuals (fifty-nine per 10,000), and the rate in women (189 per 10,000) was 4.8 times higher than that in men (thirty-nine per 10,000). The overall fracture rate varied widely across the United States, from forty-seven per 10,000 beneficiaries in New Orleans, Louisiana, to 220 per 10,000 in Spartanburg, South Carolina. Treatment rates were similar across race, with the rate of nonoperative treatment being 84% for white beneficiaries compared with 83% for non-white beneficiaries, the rate of percutaneous fixation being 11% for white beneficiaries compared with 10% for non-white beneficiaries, and the rate of open treatment being 6% for white beneficiaries compared with 7% for non-white beneficiaries. There was variation across the country, with the rate of nonoperative treatment ranging from 60% in San Luis Obispo, California, to 96% in Covington, Kentucky; the rate of percutaneous fixation ranging from 2% in Boulder, Colorado, to 39% in San Luis Obispo, California; and the rate of open treatment ranging from 0.4% in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, to 25% in Great Falls, Montana. While the rates of percutaneous fixation and nonoperative treatment remained relatively stable, the overall rate of operative fixation nearly doubled from 5% in 1998 to 8% in 2004.

Conclusions: There is wide variation in the rate of distal radial fractures across sex, age, race, and geographic region in the United States. There is also significant variation in the treatment of these fractures, driven mainly by age and region. Between 1998 and 2004, a strong trend toward more frequent operative fixation was apparent. While white individuals had more than twice as many fractures as did non-white individuals, there did not appear to be significant racial variation in the treatment of this injury.

Clinical Relevance: The national and local variations in distal radial fractures and the ensuing treatment are key features in developing evidence-based medicine for this ubiquitous injury.

1Division of Hand Surgery, Department of Orthopedics, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA 02215. E-mail address:

2Department of Orthopaedics, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, 1 Medical Center Drive, Lebanon, NH 03756

3Orthopaedic Hand and Upper Extremity Service, Massachusetts General Hospital, Yawkey Center, Suite 2100, 55 Fruit Street, Boston, MA 02114

Copyright 2009 by The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Incorporated
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