Increased overlap in the scope of practice between orthopaedic surgeons and podiatrists has led to increased podiatric treatment of foot and ankle injuries. However, a paucity of studies exists in the literature comparing orthopaedic and podiatric outcomes following ankle fracture fixation.
Using an insurance claims database, 11,745 patients who underwent ankle fracture fixation between 2007 and 2015 were retrospectively evaluated. Patient data were analyzed based on the provider type. Complications were identified by the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, codes, and revision surgeries were identified by the Current Procedural Terminology codes. Complications analyzed included malunion/nonunion, infection, deep vein thrombosis, and rates of irrigation and débridement. Risk factors for complications were compared using the Charlson Comorbidity Index.
Overall, 11,115 patients were treated by orthopaedic surgeons and 630 patients were treated by podiatrists. From 2007 to 2015, the percentage of ankle fractures surgically treated by podiatrists had increased, whereas that treated by orthopaedic surgeons had decreased. Surgical treatment by podiatrists was associated with higher malunion/nonunion rates among all types of ankle fractures. No differences in complications were observed in patients with unimalleolar fractures. In patients with bimalleolar or trimalleolar fractures, treatment by a podiatrist was associated with higher malunion/nonunion rates. Patients treated by orthopaedic surgeons versus podiatrists had similar comorbidity profiles.
Surgical treatment of ankle fractures by orthopaedic surgeons was associated with lower rates of malunion/nonunion when compared with that by podiatrists. The reasons for these differences are likely multifactorial but warrants further investigation. Our findings have important implications in patients who must choose a surgeon to surgically manage their ankle fracture, as well as policymakers who determine the scope of practice.
Level of Evidence:
Level III—retrospective cohort study