Change in diagnosis among orthopedists compared to non-orthopedists in the management of acute knee injuries

S. E. Gabriel, P. C. Amadio, D. M. Ilstrup, W. S. Harmsen, T. R. Huschka, J. L. Hill, B. P. Yawn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Objective. Uncertainty regarding diagnosis is associated with lower patient satisfaction and can lead to delays in definitive treatment and to inappropriate use of resources. We sought to compare change in diagnosis among orthopedists and non-orthopedists caring for a community based cohort of individuals with incident acute knee injuries. Methods. We conducted a longitudinal investigation of a population based cohort of Olmsted County residents with their first episode of acute knee injury occurring between January 1, 1993, and December 31, 1995. We reviewed the entire (inpatient and outpatient) medical records for these patients and collected extensive clinical data on all diagnoses made (including possible and probable) and the specialty of the attending physician(s) making them. Diagnoses were categorized as: (1) meniscus injury, cruciate injury, or osteochondral fracture; (2) ligament injury, patellar instability, patellar injury; or (3) sprain, strain, injury (unspecified). Diagnostic switches were defined as changes from one diagnostic category to another, or the addition or subtraction of a diagnostic category. We then examined the quality of the documented evidence supporting meniscal, ligamentous, and cruciate diagnoses (at initial evaluation) by comparing the clinical evidence to the recommendations outlined by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons clinical algorithm on acute knee injury. Analyses were conducted comparing (1) the number of diagnostic switches and (2) the quality of the documented evidence among those cases initially cared for by orthopedists and those cared for by non-orthopedists, using logistic regression analysis adjusting for age, sex, and injury severity. The influence of these variables on costs of care was also examined. Results. There were 664 patients (361 men and 303 women) in our study population, with an average age of 36.0 years (minimum 17, maximum 87). Of these, 324 were excluded because they only had one clinical encounter for their acute knee injury. Of the remaining 340, 59 (17.4%) were initially cared for by an orthopedist and 211 (62.1%) were cared for by an orthopedist at some time during their care. Diagnostic switches were significantly less frequent in the group who were cared for by orthopedists (55% vs 74%, p < 0.001). This result persisted after adjusting for age, sex, and severity (p = 0.003). The proportion of cases whose diagnoses were supported by evidence was significantly higher among the group whose first attending physician was an orthopedist (63.0% vs 37.6%, p = 0.002). Both change in diagnosis (p < 0.001) and physician specialty (p < 0.001) were statistically significant predictors of costs of care. Conclusion. Compared to non-orthopedic care, orthopedic care for acute knee injury was associated with fewer changes in diagnosis, and diagnoses made by orthopedists were more likely to be supported by evidence. However, even after adjusting for severity, orthopedic care remained significantly more costly than non-orthopedic care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2412-2417
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Rheumatology
Issue number10
StatePublished - 2000


  • Change in diagnosis
  • Knee injury
  • Physician specialty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rheumatology
  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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