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Med J Aust. 2011 Dec 19;195(11-12):699-702.

Determining priority for joint replacement: comparing the views of orthopaedic surgeons and other professionals.

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Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Melbourne, VIC.



To assess which patient characteristics influence the assessments of urgency for surgery by orthopaedic surgeons and non-orthopaedic professionals.


Cross-sectional study of 80 patients requiring elective hip or knee replacement attending a public hospital orthopaedic outpatient clinic or orthopaedic surgeon's private rooms. Patients were interviewed after being placed on the surgery waiting list. The interview asked about the severity of their joint disease and its effects on physical capability, psychological distress and social circumstances. Patient interviews were summarised and presented to assessors who ranked groups of eight patients in order of their perceived urgency for surgery. Eleven orthopaedic surgeon assessors completed 360 patient ratings and nine non-orthopaedic assessors from various professions, including physiotherapy, social work, research, management and engineering, completed 720 patient ratings.


Visual analogue scale rating of patient urgency for surgery; patient rankings for surgery; scores for individual domain contributions to urgency rating.


A broad spread of perceived urgency was evident among the patients. For each group of eight patients, there was moderate agreement on overall urgency rankings between the two groups of assessors. Linear regression demonstrated that pain was the dominant determinant of urgency score for both assessor groups. Orthopaedic surgeons also took into account limitations to mobility and concurrent medical illness but gave less priority to psychological distress or social circumstances. For the non-orthopaedic assessors, limitations to mobility, social circumstances and psychological distress also contributed to urgency.


Both orthopaedic surgeons and non-orthopaedic professionals considered pain the most important factor in establishing urgency and priority for joint replacement. Only the non-orthopaedic professionals considered psychosocial factors important when determining priority for surgery. Broader community discussion about prioritisation for elective surgery is needed to facilitate agreement about which patients factors should be considered.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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