Hospital Discharge within 2 Days Following Total Hip or Knee Arthroplasty Does Not Increase Major-Complication and Readmission Rates

Sutton, J. Carl III MD; Antoniou, John MD, PhD; Epure, Laura M. MSc; Huk, Olga L. MD, MSc; Zukor, David J. MD; Bergeron, Stephane G. MD, MPH

Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery - American Volume:
doi: 10.2106/JBJS.15.01109
Scientific Articles
Abstract

Background: The rising costs of total knee arthroplasty (TKA) and total hip arthroplasty (THA) have resulted in a substantial economic burden on the U.S. health-care system. Recent efforts to contain these costs have targeted hospital length of stay. However, shorter hospital admissions have raised concerns over possible increases in complications and readmission rates. The purpose of this study was to assess whether early discharge, from 0 to 2 days postoperatively, was associated with increased 30-day major complications and readmissions compared with standard discharge, 3 to 4 days following THA or TKA.

Methods: The National Surgical Quality Improvement Program (NSQIP) database was queried to identify all patients who underwent an elective, primary unilateral THA or TKA between 2011 and 2012. For each procedure, 2 groups were created consisting of patients discharged from 0 to 2 days (early discharge) and those discharged from 3 to 4 days (standard discharge). Patient demographics and perioperative variables were compared between both discharge groups. Multivariable logistic-regression models were used to assess the independent effect of length of stay on 30-day major-complication and readmission rates.

Results: A total of 31,044 patients who underwent TKA and 19,909 patients who underwent THA were included. Overall, patients who were discharged early were younger and had fewer medical comorbidities and a lower American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) score. The multivariable logistic-regression model revealed that early discharge was not associated with increased odds of major complications following TKA (odds ratio [OR] = 0.95; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.75 to 1.20; p = 0.64). Furthermore, early discharge following THA was found to be an independent predictor against major complications (OR = 0.75; 95% CI = 0.58 to 0.95; p = 0.02). Lastly, early discharge was not an independent risk factor for hospital readmission following THA or TKA.

Conclusions: Early discharge was not an independent risk factor for 30-day major complications or readmissions following THA or TKA. Rather, increased major complications and readmissions were attributed to patient comorbidities and perioperative variables. Early discharge within the first 2 days postoperatively for risk-stratified patients appears feasible without compromising patient care.

Level of Evidence: Prognostic Level III. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

Author Information

1Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Jewish General Hospital, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

E-mail address for J.C. Sutton: joseph.sutton@mail.mcgill.ca

E-mail address for J. Antoniou: janton@orl.mcgill.ca

E-mail address for L.M. Epure: ld_epure@yahoo.com

E-mail address for O.L. Huk: olgahuk@gmail.com

E-mail address for D.J. Zukor: david.zukor@mcgill.ca

E-mail address for S.G. Bergeron: stephane.bergeron@mail.harvard.edu

Article Outline

Total joint arthroplasty is one of the most common procedures performed in North America, with more than 1 million procedures performed annually in 20111,2. The annual demand for hip and knee arthroplasty is expected to reach 3.5 million in the U.S. by 20303,4. The rising costs of both total knee arthroplasty (TKA) and total hip arthroplasty (THA) have resulted in a substantial economic burden on the health-care system. In 2011, unilateral TKA and THA were the second and fourth most expensive hospital surgical procedures, respectively2. From 2003 to 2010, the cost associated with a THA in the U.S. increased from $13,000 to $16,500, while the cost of a TKA rose from $12,500 to $16,0005. A sizable proportion of the overall cost of joint replacements is attributed to the length of hospital admission, given that the average cost per day of a hospital stay has been estimated to range from $1,625 to $2,025 in the U.S6.

Recent efforts to contain the costs of total joint arthroplasty have targeted hospital length of stay. Early mobilization, better postoperative analgesia, and the implementation of clinical pathways have contributed to decreasing the length of stay following total hip and knee arthroplasty7-9. From 2003 to 2010, the average length of stay for primary TKA in the U.S. decreased from 4.0 to 3.3 days, while for THA, a similar decrease was shown, from 4.1 to 3.3 days5. Some authors have advocated for earlier discharge or outpatient surgery, showing no increase in complications or short-term readmission10-12. However, these were smaller studies evaluating highly selected patients. Concerns remain over the safety of early discharge, and it is currently unknown whether a shorter hospital length of stay following total joint replacement increases the risk of major complications. Bundled payments and other proposed changes to physician and hospital reimbursement in the U.S. have prompted further concerns regarding unplanned readmissions following early discharge after total joint arthroplasty13.

The purpose of the present study was to assess the risk of major complications and readmission, comparing early discharge (within 2 days of surgery) with standard discharge (3 to 4 days postoperatively), following elective primary THA and TKA. The primary objective was to evaluate the independent effect of early discharge on the 30-day risk of major complications while controlling for all other variables. The secondary objective was to compare the 30-day readmission rate between early and standard discharge following THA and TKA. Our null hypothesis was that there is no increased risk of major complications or readmission between early and standard discharge.

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Materials and Methods

The National Surgical Quality Improvement Program (NSQIP) database was queried to identify all patients who underwent an elective, primary, unilateral THA or TKA between January 1, 2011, and December 31, 2012. NSQIP is a nationally validated and risk-adjusted administrative database that prospectively records data regarding patient preoperative baseline characteristics, intraoperative variables, and 30-day postoperative complications following major surgical procedures14. NSQIP is a highly regulated database, and the program certifies its data collectors on a yearly basis as well as performs random audits of participating sites, with an overall disagreement rate of approximately 2%15. The hospitals use an 8-day collection cycle to ensure that all cases have an equal chance of being selected no matter the day of the week. For each case, 30-day data are collected, even if the patient has been discharged from the hospital. Over 650 hospitals contribute to the NSQIP, and most of these sites are located within the U.S.16. The complete methodology regarding NSQIP data collection has been described previously17.

Current Procedural Terminology (CPT) codes were used to select all patients who underwent primary TKA (CPT 27447) or THA (CPT 27130) in 2011 and 2012. In order to ensure that only elective and primary procedures were included in this study, all emergency procedures, fractures, bilateral procedures, and revisions were excluded. We also excluded cases with an operative time of <30 minutes or >300 minutes because these were considered outliers and would invariably confound the postoperative length of stay. Patients with incongruent data were further excluded. NSQIP data are maintained by the American College of Physicians and compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Institutional review board approval was not required given that the data were de-identified.

For the purpose of this study, early and standard discharge were defined using data from studies of U.S. Medicare beneficiaries18,19 and from the National Hospital Discharge Survey20 and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality5 showing an average length of stay of 3.3 to 4 days following THA and TKA in 2010. A preliminary assessment of the NSQIP database also revealed that >90% of patients were discharged from 0 to 4 days postoperatively (Table I). For each procedure, 2 groups were then created consisting of patients discharged from 0 to 2 days (the early discharge group) and those discharged from 3 to 4 days (the standard discharge group). The standard discharge group was defined as having a length of stay from 3 to 4 days to reflect the national average and to avoid the inclusion of patients with a prolonged hospital admission due to a major complication. Patients with a length of stay of ≥5 days were therefore excluded because this length of stay extended beyond the national average and could have been the result of a major complication prolonging the duration of hospital admission. Lastly, dichotomizing patients into similar early and standard (3 to 4 days) discharge groups has also been reported in previous studies21.

Of the 250 data points collected by NSQIP for each patient, only those pertinent to total joint replacements were used in this study. These included patient baseline demographics, comorbidities, intraoperative variables, 30-day postoperative complications, and readmission rates. Baseline and operative characteristics are presented in Table II, and postoperative complications are listed in Table III. Patients were recorded as “discharged to home” if they returned to the same primary residence (house or nursing facility) at which they resided prior to THA or TKA. All other patients were discharged to a rehabilitation center, skilled or unskilled care facility, other facility not considered home, or separate acute care facility.

The rate of readmission consisted of admission to any hospital and for any reason within 30 days of surgery, even if the readmission occurred in a non-NSQIP-participating hospital22. Thirty-day major complications included all life-threatening and serious adverse events, such as death, cardiac arrest, myocardial infarction, cerebrovascular accident, acute renal failure requiring dialysis, pulmonary embolus, pneumonia, deep wound infection, and return to the operating room (Table III). The categorization of major complications to include all life-threatening and serious adverse events was performed on the basis of previous studies involving the use of the NSQIP database23-25.

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Statistical Analysis

The baseline characteristics of patients with a postoperative length of stay of 0 to 2 days or 3 to 4 days were compared using a 2-sample t test for continuous variables or a Fisher exact test for binary variables. Three or more categorical variables were compared using a chi-square test. Continuous variables are reported as the mean and the standard deviation (SD), while categorical variables are reported as absolute values and percentages (Table II). The 30-day major and minor complication rates as well as the readmission rate were calculated using the same statistical analysis as the baseline characteristics (Table III). All variables with a medical record completion rate of <85% were excluded to minimize bias in future regression models.

Multivariable logistic-regression models were created using a priori knowledge to assess the independent effect of a patient’s postoperative length of stay on the 30-day major-complication and readmission rates while controlling for all other variables. The baseline model included all of the variables listed in Table II because we believed they could be potential confounders in the relationship of length of stay to both major complications and readmission. Additional models were created by adding interaction and nonlinear terms. Different models were compared while excluding variables that were thought to be unlikely true confounders and had nonsignificant likelihood estimates. Model stability was assessed by comparing the chi-square likelihood ratio, −2 log(L), and Akaike Information Criterion (AIC) with those of previous models. A final model was chosen according to its ability to best predict a major complication (Table IV) and readmission (Table V) following THA and TKA. A 2-sided p value of <0.05 was considered significant. Statistical analyses were performed using SAS software (version 9.3; SAS Institute).

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Results

A total of 31,044 patients who underwent TKA and 19,909 patients who underwent THA were included in this study. Patients who underwent THA were more likely to be discharged early (postoperative length of stay of 0 to 2 days) compared with those who underwent TKA (THA, 31.4% of the patients; TKA, 20.8% of the patients) (Table I).

Baseline characteristics differed significantly between the early and standard discharge groups (Table II). Overall, patients who were discharged early were younger and had fewer medical comorbidities and a lower American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) score. Male patients were more likely than female patients to be discharged early following THA (42.6% compared with 27.2%; p < 0.0001) and following TKA (29.3% compared with 18.7%; p < 0.0001). Operative characteristics differed significantly between the early and standard discharge groups (Table II). Patients with a standard length of stay following either THA or TKA had an approximately 2.5-fold increase in the rate of transfusion compared with patients with an early discharge (p < 0.0001). Lastly, patients discharged early were significantly more likely to have been discharged to home compared with patients with a standard hospital admission: 91.3% of the patients in the early discharge group were discharged to home compared with 64.7% of the patients in the standard discharge group following THA (p < 0.0001). Patients who underwent TKA also showed a similar disposition, with 88.1% of the patients in the early discharge group going home compared with 63.6% of the patients in the standard discharge group (p < 0.0001).

Unadjusted 30-day major-complication and readmission rates are shown in Table III. There was no difference in the overall rate of major complications following TKA between the early and standard discharge groups: 1.7% and 1.9%, respectively; p = 0.36. However, patients discharged early following THA had significantly fewer major complications compared with patients with a standard length of stay (a rate of 1.6% compared with 2.7%; p < 0.0001). The 30-day readmission rate was significantly lower in the early discharge group compared with the standard discharge group for both THA (a rate of 2.4% compared with 3.8%; p < 0.0001) and TKA (a rate of 3.0% compared with 3.8%; p = 0.0005).

The multivariable logistic-regression model revealed that early discharge was not associated with increased odds of major complications following TKA (odds ratio [OR] = 0.95; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 0.75 to 1.2; p = 0.64) (Table IV). Furthermore, early discharge following THA was found to be an independent predictor against major complications when controlling for all other risk factors (OR = 0.75; 95% CI = 0.58 to 0.95; p = 0.02). The logistic-regression analysis for 30-day readmission showed that early discharge was not an independent risk factor for hospital readmission following either primary THA (OR = 0.83; 95% CI = 0.67 to 1.01; p = 0.068) or TKA (OR = 0.86; 95% CI = 0.72 to 1.02; p = 0.088) (Table V).

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Discussion

Early discharge following total hip or knee replacement has been a recent topic of debate because of the increasing number of arthroplasties performed annually and the large economic burden such procedures place on the U.S. health-care system. However, shorter hospital admissions have raised concerns over possible increases in complication and readmission rates. We sought to determine whether early discharge, from 0 to 2 days, was associated with increased 30-day major complications and readmissions compared with standard discharge, from 3 to 4 days. The results of this study confirmed our hypothesis that early discharge is not an independent risk factor for either major complications or readmission following THA or TKA.

Appropriate candidates for early discharge should be carefully selected to avoid compromising patient safety. Our results revealed that patients discharged early were younger and healthier, received fewer transfusions, and were more likely to have been discharged to home. These findings are similar to those for Medicare beneficiaries following TKA that showed that patients undergoing an outpatient procedure or having a shortened hospital stay (1 to 2 days) were younger and had a lower Charlson comorbidity score compared with the 3 to 4-day standard-stay group21. Independent risk factors for major complications in our study differed slightly between hip and knee arthroplasty, and were the result of patient comorbidities and operative variables rather than length of hospital admission (Table IV). Major complications following THA were associated with discharge at 3 to 4 days, male sex, higher body mass index (BMI), corticosteroid use, a longer surgical duration, and postoperative transfusions. Independent predictors of a major complication after TKA included male sex, current-smoker status, an elevated BUN (blood urea nitrogen) value, a longer surgical duration, and discharge to a rehabilitation facility. Studies have shown that most complications following total joint arthroplasty occur beyond 24 hours postoperatively26,27. The authors of those studies recommended that patients with elevated BMI, a high ASA score, older age, or a history of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), congestive heart failure (CHF), coronary artery disease (CAD), or cirrhosis not be discharged early given that these risk factors were all found to be independent predictors of a late complication26,27.

Readmissions following total joint arthroplasty are common and costly. The average cost of readmission following a surgical complication has been estimated to be $36,038 for THA and $32,922 for TKA28. The rates of all-cause 30-day readmission have further increased over the past 2 decades, from 4.2% to 5.0% after primary TKA and from 5.9% to 8.5% following THA18,19. The most common causes for readmission include surgical complications such as wound-related issues, bleeding, periprosthetic fractures and dislocations, and pain28,29. Common medical causes for readmission include gastrointestinal, pulmonary, and genitourinary issues, thromboembolic events, and systemic and cardiac-associated issues28,29.

In recent studies, Cram et al. reported that the decreasing trend in hospital length of stay is responsible for the rise in readmission following THA and TKA18,19. They suggested a limit in cost savings that can be achieved by further reducing the length of stay given the increased demand for postacute care and a higher rate of readmission. Although the authors inferred a causal relationship between the observed decrease in hospital length of stay and the increase in readmission rates, this was not directly measured. These studies further failed to control for patient factors and operative variables, and the findings conflict with those of the current study as well as those previously published30. We have shown that early discharge is not an independent risk factor for readmission and that appropriately selected patients can be discharged from 0 to 2 days without concerns over increased readmission. The results of our study mirror those of other studies showing that increased readmission can be attributed to patient and perioperative factors such as general anesthesia, discharge disposition, increased length of stay, and blood transfusions30. In a separate study of Medicare patients, the 2-year costs associated with TKA were reduced by $1,967 per patient with a length of stay from 1 to 2 days compared with 3 to 4 days21.

The limitations of our study are those characteristic of the use of large administrative databases. The NSQIP does not collect several variables relevant to arthroplasty, such as hospital location, operative approach (anterior, posterior, or lateral), type of implant, or the use of cement or a tourniquet. Several outcomes are also not recorded in the NSQIP database, such as dislocation, periprosthetic fractures, functional outcome scores specific to arthroplasty, or any event occurring beyond 30 days postoperatively, such as deep-vein thrombosis. Hospital and surgeon volume are also not reported by the NSQIP. Both of these variables are potential confounders and have been shown to affect the rate of adverse outcomes31,32. Consequently, our findings should be interpreted within the context of the study design because we were unable to account for unmeasured confounders, such as volume, on the relationship between length of stay and major complications. Despite these shortcomings, the NSQIP database is one of the largest of its kind and includes an extensive registry of perioperative variables and complications. This database was chosen because of its features to best evaluate our objectives. Databases that include only Medicare beneficiaries will exclude patients <65 years of age, who account for 41% to 46% of all patients undergoing TKA and THA20,33. Other U.S. databases, such as the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Limited Data Sets, will also underestimate the true rate of 30-day outcomes such as readmission because they are unable to accurately link outpatient complications once the patient has been discharged to home or readmitted to a different hospital34. The NSQIP is ideal for evaluating risk factors for readmission because the database will capture all readmissions, even those occurring at a hospital other than where the index procedure was performed. The NSQIP is thoroughly audited and adheres to strict quality-control standards, making the database very useful for this type of study.

Length of stay following THA and TKA has been steadily decreasing over the past decade, and studies have shown excellent satisfaction and low complications with “fast-track” protocols35. The results of our study involving the use of a large administrative database showed that discharge within the first 2 postoperative days for risk-stratified patients appears to be safe, without increased risk of 30-day postoperative complications or hospital readmission. Lastly, patient comorbidities and operative variables are more predictive of major complications and readmission than shorter length of stay following THA and TKA.

Investigation performed at the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, Jewish General Hospital, Montreal, Quebec, Canada

A commentary by Joshua S. Everhart, MD, MPH, is linked to the online version of this article at jbjs.org.

Disclosure: No external funding was received for this study. On the Disclosure of Potential Conflicts of Interest forms, which are provided with the online version of the article, one or more of the authors checked “yes” to indicate that the author had a relevant financial relationship in the biomedical arena outside the submitted work.

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