Surgical stabilization of rib fractures (SSRF) remains a relatively controversial operation, which is often deferred because of concern about expense. The objective of this study was to determine the charges for SSRF versus medical management during index admission for rib fractures. We hypothesize that SSRF is associated with increased charge as compared with medical management.
This is a retrospective chart review of a prospectively maintained database of patients with ≥3 displaced rib fractures admitted to a level 1 trauma center from 2010 to 2019. Patients who underwent SSRF (operative management [OM]) were compared with those managed medically (nonoperative management [NOM]). The total hospital charge between OM and NOM was compared with univariate analysis, followed by backward stepwise regression and mediation analysis.
Overall, 279 patients were included. The majority (75%) were male, the median age was 54 years, and the median Injury Severity Scale score (ISS) was 21. A total of 182 patients underwent OM, whereas 97 underwent NOM. Compared with NOM, OM patients had a lower ISS (18 vs. 22, p = 0.004), less traumatic brain injury (14% vs. 31%, p = 0.0006), shorter length of stay (10 vs. 14 days, p = 0.001), and decreased complications. After controlling for the differences between OM and NOM patients, OM was significantly associated with decreased charges (β = US $35,105, p = 0.01). Four other predictors, with management, explained 30% of the variance in charge (R2 = 0.30, p < 0.0001): scapular fracture (β = US $471,967, p < 0.0001), ISS per unit increase (β = US $4,139, p < 0.0001), long bone fracture (β = US $52,176, p = 0.01), bilateral rib fractures (β = US $34,392, p = 0.01), and Glasgow Coma Scale per unit decrease (β = US $17,164, p < 0.0001). The difference in charge between NOM and OM management was most strongly, although only partially, mediated by length of stay.
Our analysis found that OM, as compared with NOM, was independently associated with decreased hospital charges. These data refute the prevailing notion that SSRF should be withheld because of concerns for increased cost.
LEVEL OF EVIDENCE
Economic, level II.