Clin Orthop Relat Res. 2023 Jan 25. doi: 10.1097/CORR.0000000000002555. Online ahead of print.
BACKGROUND: The 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been associated with poor mental health outcomes and widened health disparities in the United States. Given the inter-relationship between psychosocial factors and functional outcomes in orthopaedic surgery, it is important that we understand whether patients presenting for musculoskeletal care during the pandemic were associated with worse physical and mental health than before the pandemic’s onset.
QUESTIONS/PURPOSES: (1) Did patients seen for an initial visit by an orthopaedic provider during the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrate worse physical function, pain interference, depression, and/or anxiety than patients seen before the pandemic, as measured by the Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System (PROMIS) instrument? (2) During the COVID-19 pandemic, did patients living in areas with high levels of social deprivation demonstrate worse patterns of physical function, pain interference, depression, or anxiety on initial presentation to an orthopaedic provider than patients living in areas with low levels of social deprivation, compared with prepandemic PROMIS scores?
METHODS: This was a retrospective, comparative study of new patient evaluations that occurred in the orthopaedic department at a large, urban tertiary care academic medical center. During the study period, PROMIS computer adaptive tests were routinely administered to patients at clinical visits. Between January 1, 2019, and December 31, 2019, we identified 26,989 new patients; we excluded 4% (1038 of 26,989) for being duplicates, 4% (1034 of 26,989) for having incomplete demographic data, 44% (11,925 of 26,989) for not having a nine-digit home ZIP Code recorded, and 5% (1332 of 26,989) for not completing all four PROMIS computer adaptive tests of interest. This left us with 11,660 patients in the “before COVID-19” cohort. Between January 1, 2021 and December 31, 2021, we identified 30,414 new patients; we excluded 5% (1554 of 30,414) for being duplicates, 4% (1142 of 30,414) for having incomplete demographic data, 41% (12,347 of 30,414) for not having a nine-digit home ZIP Code recorded, and 7% (2219 of 30,414) for not completing all four PROMIS computer adaptive tests of interest. This left us with 13,152 patients in the “during COVID-19” cohort. Nine-digit home ZIP Codes were used to determine patients’ Area Deprivation Indexes, a neighborhood-level composite measure of social deprivation. To ensure that patients included in the study represented our overall patient population, we performed univariate analyses on available demographic and PROMIS data between patients included in the study and those excluded from the study, which revealed no differences (results not shown). In the before COVID-19 cohort, the mean age was 57 ± 16 years, 60% (7046 of 11,660) were women, 86% (10,079 of 11,660) were White non-Hispanic, and the mean national Area Deprivation Index percentile was 47 ± 25. In the during COVID-19 cohort, the mean age was 57 ± 16 years, 61% (8051 of 13,152) were women, 86% (11,333 of 13,152) were White non-Hispanic, and the mean national Area Deprivation Index percentile was 46 ± 25. The main outcome measures in this study were the PROMIS Physical Function ([PF], version 2.0), Pain Interference ([PI], version 1.1), Depression (version 1.0), and Anxiety (version 1.0). PROMIS scores follow a normal distribution with a mean t-score of 50 and a standard deviation of 10. Higher PROMIS PF scores indicate better self-reported physical capability, whereas higher PROMIS PI, Depression, and Anxiety scores indicate more difficulty managing pain, depression, and anxiety symptoms, respectively. Clinically meaningful differences in PROMIS scores between the cohorts were based on a minimum clinically important difference (MCID) threshold of 4 points. Multivariable linear regression models were created to determine whether presentation to an orthopaedic provider during the pandemic was associated with worse PROMIS scores than for patients who presented before the pandemic. Regression coefficients (ß) represent the estimated difference in PROMIS scores that would be expected for patients who presented during the pandemic compared with patients who presented before the pandemic, after adjusting for confounding variables. Regression coefficients were evaluated in the context of clinical importance and statistical significance. Regression coefficients equal to or greater than the MCID of 4 points were considered clinically important, whereas p values < 0.05 were considered statistically significant.
RESULTS: We found no clinically important differences in baseline physical and mental health PROMIS scores between new patients who presented to an orthopaedic provider before the COVID-19 pandemic and those who presented during the COVID-19 pandemic (PROMIS PF: ß -0.2 [95% confidence interval -0.43 to 0.03]; p = 0.09; PROMIS PI: ß 0.06 [95% CI -0.13 to 0.25]; p = 0.57; PROMIS Depression: ß 0.09 [95% CI -0.14 to 0.33]; p = 0.44; PROMIS Anxiety: ß 0.58 [95% CI 0.33 to 0.84]; p < 0.001). Although patients from areas with high levels of social deprivation had worse PROMIS scores than patients from areas with low levels of social deprivation, patients from areas with high levels of social deprivation demonstrated no clinically important differences in PROMIS scores when groups before and during the pandemic were compared (PROMIS PF: ß -0.23 [95% CI -0.80 to 0.33]; p = 0.42; PROMIS PI: ß 0.18 [95% CI -0.31 to 0.67]; p = 0.47; PROMIS Depression: ß 0.42 [95% CI -0.26 to 1.09]; p = 0.23; PROMIS Anxiety: ß 0.84 [95% CI 0.16 to 1.52]; p = 0.02).
CONCLUSION: Contrary to studies describing worse physical and mental health since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we found no changes in the health status of orthopaedic patients on initial presentation to their provider. Although large-scale action to mitigate the effects of worsening physical or mental health of orthopaedic patients may not be needed at this time, orthopaedic providers should remain aware of the psychosocial needs of their patients and advocate on behalf of those who may benefit from intervention. Our study is limited in part to patients who had the self-agency to access specialty orthopaedic care, and therefore may underestimate the true changes in the physical or mental health status of all patients with musculoskeletal conditions. Future longitudinal studies evaluating the impact of specific COVID-19-related factors (for example, delays in medical care, social isolation, or financial loss) on orthopaedic outcomes may be helpful to prepare for future pandemics or natural disasters.
LEVEL OF EVIDENCE: Level II, prognostic study.