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Use of instrumented lumbar spinal surgery for degenerative conditions: trends and costs over time in Ontario, Canada

Xu Y, Yen D, Whitehead M, Xu J, Johnson AP. Can J Surg. 2019; Sep 23 [Epub ahead of print].


Background — Instrumented lumbar surgeries, such as lumbar fusion and lumbar disc replacement, are increasingly being used in the United States for low back pain, with utilization rates approaching those of total joint arthroplasty. It is unknown whether there is a similar pattern in Canada. We sought to determine utilization rates and total medical costs of instrumented lumbar surgeries in a single-payer system and to compare these with the rates and costs of total hip and knee replacements.

Methods — We included Ontarians aged 20 years and older who underwent instrumented lumbar surgery or total knee or total hip replacement between April 1993 and March 2012. Utilization and medical cost of the procedures were evaluated and compared using linear regression in a time-series analysis. Instrumented lumbar surgical procedures were stratified by age and main indication for surgery.

Results — Utilization of instrumented lumbar surgeries rose from 6.2 to 14.2 procedures per 100 000 population between 1993 and 2012 (p < 0.001), well below the utilization of knee and hip arthroplasties. Patients were younger than 50 years of age for 29.2% of all instrumented lumbar surgery cases; annual procedure rates among those older than 80 years of age rose 7.6-fold. Direct medical costs of instrumented lumbar surgeries from 2002 to 2012 totaled $176 million. Spinal stenosis and spondylolisthesis were the most common indications for instrumented lumbar surgeries.

Conclusion — Use of instrumented lumbar surgeries in Ontario’s single-payer system has increased rapidly, especially among patients older than 80 years of age. In contrast to the situation in the United States, these rates were well below those of total joint arthroplasties. These data provide useful insights about resource allocation for surgical treatment of lumbar degenerative disorders.

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