In the future, payers may not cover unplanned 90-day emergency room (ER) visits or readmissions after elective lumbar spine surgery. Prior studies using large administrative databases lack granularity and/or use a proxy for actual cost. The purpose of this study was to identify risk factors and subsequent costs associated with 90-day ER visits and readmissions after elective lumbar spine surgery.
A prospective, multisurgeon, single-center electronic medical record was queried for elective lumbar spine fusion surgeries from 2013 to 2017. Predictive models were created for 90-day ER visits and readmissions.
Of 5444 patients, 729 (13%) returned to the ER, most often for pain (n = 213, 29%). Predictors of an ER visit were prior ER visit (OR 2.5), underserved zip code (OR 1.4), and number of chronic medical conditions (OR 1.4). In total, 421 (8%) patients were readmitted, most frequently for wound infection (n = 123, 2%), exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (n = 24, 0.4%), and sepsis (n = 23, 0.4%). Predictors for readmission were prior ER visit (OR 1.96), multiple chronic conditions (OR 1.69), obesity (nonobese, OR 0.49), race (African American, OR 1.43), admission status (ER admission, OR 2.29), and elevated hemoglobin A1c (OR 1.80). The mean direct hospital cost for an ER visit was $1971, with 75% of visits costing less than $1890, and the average readmission cost was $7347, with 75% of readmissions costing less than $8820. Over the 5-year study period, the cost to the institution for 90-day return ER visits was $5.1 million.
Risk factors for 90-day ER visit and readmission after elective lumbar spine surgery include medical comorbidities and socioeconomic factors. Proper patient counseling, appropriate postoperative pain management, and optimization of modifiable risk factors prior to surgery are areas to focus future efforts to lower 90-day ER visits and readmissions and reduce healthcare costs.