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JB JS Open Access


Background: The treatment of Rockwood Grade-III acromioclavicular (AC) joint separation has been widely disputed since the introduction of the classification system. The present literature does not reach consensus on whether operative or nonoperative management is more advantageous, nor does it effectively distinguish between operative measures. We hypothesized that nonoperative treatment of Rockwood Grade-III AC joint separation would be more cost-effective when compared with surgical options.

Methods: We created a decision-tree model outlining the treatment of Rockwood Grade-III separations using nonoperative management or hook-plate, suture-button, or allograft fixation. After nonoperative intervention, the possible outcomes predicted by the model were uneventful healing, delayed operative management, a second round of sling use and physical therapy, or no reduction and no action; and after operative intervention, the possible outcomes were uneventful healing, loss of reduction and revision, and depending on the implant, loss of reduction and no action, or removal of the implant. A systematic review was conducted, and probabilities of each model state were averaged. A cost-effectiveness analysis was conducted both through rollback analysis yielding net monetary benefit and through incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICERs). Thresholds of $50,000/quality-adjusted life-year (QALY) and $100,000/QALY were used for ICER analysis. Furthermore, a sensitivity analysis was utilized to determine whether differential probabilities could impact the model.

Results: Forty-five papers were selected from a potential 768 papers identified through our literature review. Nonoperative treatment was used as our reference case and showed dominance over all 3 of the operative measures at both the $50,000 and $100,000 ICER thresholds. Nonoperative treatment also showed the greatest net monetary benefit. Nonoperative management yielded the lowest total cost ($6,060) and greatest utility (0.95 QALY). Sensitivity analysis showed that allograft fixation became the favored technique at a willingness-to-pay threshold of $50,000 if the rate of failure of nonoperative treatment rose to 14.6%. Similarly, at the $100,000 threshold, allograft became dominant if the probability of failure of nonoperative treatment rose to 22.8%.

Conclusions: The cost-effectiveness of nonoperative treatment is fueled by its notably lower costs and overall high rates of success in Grade-III separations. It is important to note that, in our analysis, the societal cost (measured in lost productivity) of nonoperative treatment neared that of surgical treatment, but the cost from the health-care system perspective was minimal. Physicians should bear in mind the sensitivity of these conclusions and should consider cost-effectiveness analyses in their decision-making guidelines.

Level of Evidence: Economic and Decision Analysis Level IV. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

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