Knee Replacement Surgery: The Economic Factor

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For people who are in need of a knee replacement, surgery can mean a whole new world of less pain and a better quality of life.  Whether to have the surgery is always a case-by-case basis, medically.  But for the first time, a group of economists has calculated the costs of not doing the procedure.

In 2009, more than 600,000 people had knee replacement surgeries in the United States.  By the year 2030, that number is expected to be more than 3 million.  That's why the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons wanted an economic group to study just how much it costs when people undergo the procedure, or when they don't.

"This paper covers the direct and indirect cost of replacement surgeries, which was never really covered before," said Dr. David Kolessar, Chief of Hip Arthroplasty Services at Geisinger Health System.

He met us to talk about knee replacements, specifically the study that just found that for the average patient undergoing the surgery, the expense of it is offset by indirect savings of nearly $40,000 in a lifetime.

He's involved with the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, which wanted the study to be done.  He points out that a typical knee replacement surgery can cost in the ballpark of $20,000.

"What (people) don't really see is the long-term benefit.  How do we measure this economically?  Does it benefit us as a society to fix the knee and return to a productive life?"

According to the findings, the answer is yes, taking into account time lost at work and needed disability benefits, not to mention pain alleviation.  It's something Dr. Kolessar says doctors will have to pay more attention to as the population ages.

It's estimated that 1 in 4 Americans has bone or joint problems, making them the greatest cause of lost work days in the United States.