Involvement in a Personal Injury Claim Is Associated With More Pain and Delayed Return to Work After Elective Nonsurgical or Surgical Treatment for Hand or Wrist Disorders: A Propensity Score-matched Comparative Study

Lisa Hoogendam, Mark Johannes Willem van der Oest, John Sebastiaan Souer, Ruud Willem Selles, Steven Eric Ruden Hovius, Reinier Feitz, Hand-Wrist Study Group

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

BACKGROUND: A small proportion of patients treated for a hand or wrist condition are also involved in a personal injury claim that may or may not be related to the reason for seeking treatment. There are already indications that patients involved in a personal injury claim have more severe symptoms preoperatively and worse surgical outcomes. However, for nonsurgical treatment, it is unknown whether involvement in a personal injury claim affects treatment outcomes. Similarly, it is unknown whether treatment invasiveness affects the association between involvement in a personal injury claim and the outcomes of nonsurgical treatment. Finally, most studies did not take preoperative differences into account.

QUESTIONS/PURPOSES: (1) Do patients with a claim have more pain during loading, less function, and longer time to return to work after nonsurgical treatment than matched patients without a personal injury claim? (2) Do patients with a personal injury claim have more pain, less function, and longer time to return to work after minor surgery than matched patients without a personal injury claim? (3) Do patients with a personal injury claim have more pain, less function, and longer time to return to work after major surgery than matched patients without a personal injury claim?

METHODS: We used data from a longitudinally maintained database of patients treated for hand or wrist disorders in the Netherlands between December 2012 and May 2020. During the study period, 35,749 patients for whom involvement in a personal injury claim was known were treated nonsurgically or surgically for hand or wrist disorders. All patients were invited to complete the VAS (scores range from 0 to 100) for pain and hand function before treatment and at follow-up. We excluded patients who did not complete the VAS on pain and hand function before treatment and those who received a rare treatment, which we defined as fewer than 20 occurrences in our dataset, resulting in 29,101 patients who were eligible for evaluation in this study. Employed patients (66% [19,134 of 29,101]) were also asked to complete a questionnaire regarding return to work. We distinguished among nonsurgical treatment (follow-up at 3 months), minor surgery (such as trigger finger release, with follow-up of 3 months), and major surgery (such as trapeziectomy, with follow-up at 12 months). The mean age was 53 ± 15 years, 64% (18,695 of 29,101) were women, and 2% (651 of 29,101) of all patients were involved in a personal injury claim. For each outcome and treatment type, patients with a personal injury claim were matched to similar patients without a personal injury claim using 1:2 propensity score matching to account for differences in patient characteristics and baseline pain and hand function. For nonsurgical treatment VAS analysis, there were 115 personal injury claim patients and 230 matched control patients, and for return to work analysis, there were 83 claim and 166 control patients. For minor surgery VAS analysis, there were 172 personal injury claim patients and 344 matched control patients, and for return to work analysis, there were 108 claim and 216 control patients. For major surgery VAS analysis, there were 129 personal injury claim patients and 258 matched control patients, and for return to work analysis, there were 117 claim and 234 control patients.

RESULTS: For patients treated nonsurgically, those with a claim had more pain during load at 3 months than matched patients without a personal injury claim (49 ± 30 versus 39 ± 30, adjusted mean difference 9 [95% confidence interval (CI) 2 to 15]; p = 0.008), but there was no difference in hand function (61 ± 27 versus 66 ± 28, adjusted mean difference -5 [95% CI -11 to 1]; p = 0.11). Each week, patients with a personal injury claim had a 39% lower probability of returning to work than patients without a claim (HR 0.61 [95% CI 0.45 to 0.84]; p = 0.002). For patients with an injury claim at 3 months after minor surgery, there was more pain (44 ± 30 versus 34 ± 29, adjusted mean difference 10 [95% CI 5 to 15]; p < 0.001), lower function (60 ± 28 versus 69 ± 28, adjusted mean difference -9 [95% CI -14 to -4]; p = 0.001), and 32% lower probability of returning to work each week (HR 0.68 [95% CI 0.52 to 0.89]; p = 0.005). For patients with an injury claim at 1 year after major surgery, there was more pain (36 ± 29 versus 27 ± 27, adjusted mean difference 9 [95% CI 4 to 15]; p = 0.002), worse hand function (66 ± 28 versus 76 ± 26, adjusted mean difference -9 [95% CI -15 to -4]; p = 0.001), and a 45% lower probability of returning to work each week (HR 0.55 [95% CI 0.42 to 0.73]; p < 0.001).

CONCLUSION: Personal injury claim involvement was associated with more posttreatment pain and a longer time to return to work for patients treated for hand or wrist disorders, regardless of treatment invasiveness. Patients with a personal injury claim who underwent surgery also rated their postoperative hand function as worse than similar patients who did not have a claim. Depending on treatment invasiveness, only 42% to 55% of the personal injury claim patients experienced a clinically relevant improvement in pain. We recommend that clinicians extensively discuss the expected treatment outcomes and the low probability of a clinically relevant improvement in pain with their personal injury claim patients and that they broach the possibility of postponing treatment.

LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Level III, therapeutic study.

Original languageEnglish
JournalClinical Orthopaedics and Related Research
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 26 Sep 2022

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2022 The Author(s). Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. on behalf of the Association of Bone and Joint Surgeons.

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