JAMA: Unnecessary Joint Replacements Cost Americans $8.3 Billion

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As many as one-third of hip and knee replacements in the U.S. may be unnecessary. And unneeded joint replacements cost Americans an estimated $8.3 billion a year.

Vanessa Lam and Drs. Steven Teutsch and Jonathan Fielding published these estimates in a March 13, 2018, JAMA Viewpoint article. All three authors are from UCLA’s Center for Health Advancement. They based their claims on two recent studies.

The authors argued better patient education could result in fewer unnecessary joint replacements. They also claimed capping joint replacement costs would save insurers and taxpayers billions.

“This is a significant source of potentially controllable spending,” the authors wrote.

Americans Spend $20 Billion a Year on Hip, Knee Replacements

Patients received 505,000 hip replacements and 723,000 knee replacements in 2014, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The total cost was $20 billion.

Lam, Teutsch and Fielding cited a 2014 study of knee replacements. Researchers of the 2014 study found one in three replacements were inappropriate. Doctors should have tried other treatments for knee arthritis.

Injured by complications related to hip replacement? Get a Free Case Review

The authors applied the figures across the board for all joint replacements. They claimed it amounted to $8.3 billion in unneeded costs.

But the authors argued that even necessary joint replacements cost too much.

They wrote that hip or knee replacement costs depend on where surgeries take place. Total surgery costs range from $17,000 in some parts of the U.S. to $60,000 in other parts.  The price of implants alone can vary by as much as $4,000 depending on the hospital or its location.

The authors wrote that joint replacement costs averaged above Medicare reimbursement rates. They estimated capping all procedures at the $13,000 Medicare rate would save $4.4 billion a year.

Education Can Prevent Unnecessary Knee, Hip Replacements

The authors said that current patient education has the wrong focus. Doctors inform patients about the procedure. But the focus should be on helping patients make informed decisions.

They said people often choose hip or knee replacements based on high expectations. They believe the devices will improve their lives. But patients underestimate potential harm and do not learn about alternative treatments.

“Educating patients about alternatives and risks can support decision making by patients and physicians,” the authors wrote.

Better education, they claim, allows patients to wait until joint replacement is necessary. They argue better patient education will avoid “unnecessary and more costly revision procedures.”

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Terry Turner
Written By Terry Turner Writer

Terry Turner has been writing articles and producing news broadcasts for more than 25 years. He covers FDA policy, proton pump inhibitors, and medical devices such as hernia mesh, IVC filters, and hip and knee implants. An Emmy-winning journalist, he has reported on health and medical policy issues before Congress, the FDA and other federal agencies. Some of his qualifications include:

  • American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates member
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Health Literacy certificates
  • Original works published or cited in Washington Examiner, MedPage Today and The New York Times
  • Appeared as an expert panelist on hernia mesh lawsuits on the BBC
Edited By

5 Cited Research Articles

  1. Lam, V., Teutsch, S. & Fielding, J. (2018, March 13). Hip and Knee Replacements; A Neglected Potential Savings Opportunity. JAMA. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/2674674?redirect=true
  2. Navathe, A.S. et al. (2017, February). Cost of Joint Replacement Using Bundled Payment Models. JAMA Internal Medicine. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/article-abstract/2594805
  3. Papanicolas, I., Woskie, L.R. & Jha, K. (2018, March 13). Health Care Spending in the United States and Other High-Income Countries. JAMA. Retrieved from https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2674671
  4. Boggs, W. (2014, June 30). One-Third of Knee Replacements in the U.S. May be Inappropriate. Reuters Health. Retrieved from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-knee-replacement-inappropriate/one-third-of-knee-replacements-in-the-u-s-may-be-inappropriate-idUSKBN0F52LC20140630
  5. Bryant, M. (2018, March 16). Reducing Inappropriate Joint Replacements Could Save Billions. HealthCare Dive. Retrieved from https://www.healthcaredive.com/news/reducing-inappropriate-joint-replacements-could-save-billions/519270/
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