The Social and Economic Benefits of Knee Replacement

Just three weeks after having knee replacement, NBC news anchor Brian Williams' quick return to Nightly News this evening illustrates one of the hidden benefits of this procedure. Many baby boomers find that knee replacement not only ends years of pain and helps them stay active; it also adds years to their work life, reduces the number work absences and helps them increase their lifetime earnings. That’s good news for patients and for society as a whole, especially with an aging workforce and increasing rates of obesity—factors that are bound to put more wear and tear on joints.

Now, there's research that calculates knee replacement’s positive economic impact on society. According to a recent study published in The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, an indirect savings of almost $40,000 offsets the cost of knee replacement for the average patient. Over a lifetime, the societal savings is $10,000 to $30,000 per patient. As the workforce ages and more people have knee replacement, the total economic benefit to society could climb to $12 billion by 2030.

The study, commissioned by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, is the first to estimate the overall economic value of knee replacements to workers and their employers. The savings were calculated by reviewing 600,000 knee replacements performed in 2009.

“This is something we have intuitively known for a long time,” says R. Michael Meneghini, MD, an Indiana University Health Orthopedics & Sports Medicine surgeon who specializes in hip and knee replacements. “After successful knee replacement, we see patients returning to active lives at their jobs, with their families and physical activities.”

Meneghini says it’s imperative to have research that quantifies anecdotal observations and justifies one of medicine’s most successful surgical procedures. The study is also welcome news for an industry continually in search of ways to add value and reduce costs.

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