Posted by John Ager on 23 July 2012.
A recent article in my local paper discussed the rising number of joint replacement surgeries in the United States. Nationally, close to 1.2 million knee and hip surgeries are performed annually. That number is expected to increase to 3.4 million over the next 25 years. The number of knee and hip replacements in Arizon has doubled in just the past 10 years. So what gives? Is it something in the water? Something in the milk?
I believe that a host of different factors are responsible for these statistics. For one, people are trying to stay more active later in life and joint replacement surgery can make that possible. Of course, the increased activity level also increases the chance that a joint will wear out and need replacement. Joint replacement can also significantly improve the quality of life in less active individuals as well, reducing pain and making activities of daily living possible when they once were not.
On the other hand, osteoarthritis, which is closely linked with obesity, is one of the primary reasons for hip and knee replacements. Uncontrolled weight gain has reached epidemic proportions in the United States and no doubt the orthopedic consequences will continue to play an ever increasing role in the market for joint replacement.
Improvements in medical technology are continuing to make joint replacement surgery safer, easier and more successful. Recovery times are about half of what they were just a few decades ago. The variety of implant prothetheses available ensures that an implant will fit well which means less wear and tear on the prosthesis and the human body. Like the original parts they replace, implants will eventually wear out, but today’s implants are more durable and patients are no longer cautioned to wait as long as possible before implant surgery.
Whether joint replacement is needed because of too little exercise or too much, the bottom line is that joint replacement has become a more appealing alternative to doing nothing.
The chance for improved quality of life, however, comes at a cost. Joint replacement is not cheap. Medicare pays about $15,000 for a hip replacement procedure. The full cost is about $40,000. Not surprisingly, 60% of all hip replacements are paid for by Medicare. That’s $11 billion just for the procedures covered by Medicare. That number is expected to increase to $30 billion in today’s dollars by 2030. Currently, joint replacement is widely available, but that may change as economic pressures are brought to bear on our health care system. This is a huge problem and will only continue to grow, but is a topic for another day.