Using decision analysis to assess comparative clinical efficacy of surgical treatment of unstable ankle fractures

James D. Michelson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND/OBJECTIVES:: The development of a robust treatment algorithm for ankle fractures based on well-established stability criteria has been shown to be prognostic with respect to treatment and outcomes. In parallel with the development of improved understanding of the biomechanical rationale of ankle fracture treatment has been an increased emphasis on assessing the effectiveness of medical and surgical interventions. The purpose of this study was to investigate the use of using decision analysis in the assessment of the cost effectiveness of operative treatment of ankle fractures based on the existing clinical data in the literature. METHODS:: Using the data obtained from a previous structured review of the ankle fracture literature, decision analysis trees were constructed using standard software. The decision nodes for the trees were based on ankle fracture stability criteria previously published. The outcomes were assessed by calculated Quality-Adjusted Life Years (QALYs) assigned to achieving normal ankle function, developing posttraumatic arthritis, or sustaining a postoperative infection. Sensitivity analysis was undertaken by varying the patient's age, incidence of arthritis, and incidence or infection. RESULTS:: Decision analysis trees captured the essential aspects of clinical decision making in ankle fracture treatment in a clinically useful manner. In general, stable fractures yielded better outcomes with nonoperative treatment, whereas unstable fractures had better outcomes with surgery. These were consistent results over a wide range of postoperative infection rates. Varying the age of the patient did not qualitatively change the results. Between the ages of 30 and 80 years, surgery yielded higher expected QALYs than nonoperative care for unstable fractures, and generated lower QALYs than nonoperative care for stable fractures. Using local cost estimates for operative and nonoperative treatment, the incremental cost of surgery for unstable fractures was less than $40,000 per QALY (the usual cutoff for the determination of cost effectiveness) for patients aged up to 90 years. DISCUSSION/CONCLUSIONS:: Decision analysis is a useful methodology in developing treatment guidelines. Numerous previous studies have indicated superior clinical outcomes when unstable ankle fractures underwent operative reduction and stabilization. What has been lacking was an examination of the cost effectiveness of such an approach, particularly in older patients who have fewer expected years of life. In light of the evidence for satisfactory outcomes for surgery of severe ankle fractures in older people, the justification for operative intervention is an obvious question that can be asked in the current increasingly cost-conscious environment. Using a decision-tree decision analysis structured around the stability-based ankle fracture classification system, in conjunction with a relatively simple cost effectiveness analysis, this study was able to demonstrate that surgical treatment of unstable ankle fractures in elderly patients is in fact cost effective. SIGNIFICANCE:: The clinical implication of the present analysis is that these existing treatment protocols for ankle fracture treatment are also cost effective when quality of life outcome measures are taken into account. LEVEL OF EVIDENCE:: Economic Level II. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)642-648
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of orthopaedic trauma
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2013


  • ankle fracture
  • ankle fracture surgery
  • comparative effectiveness
  • decision analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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