The clinical consequences of routine follow-up radiographs for patients with ankle fracture are unclear, and their usefulness is disputed. The purpose of the present study was to determine if routine radiographs made at weeks 6 and 12 can be omitted without compromising clinical outcomes.
This multicenter randomized controlled trial with a noninferiority design included 246 patients with an ankle fracture, 153 (62%) of whom received operative treatment. At 6 and 12 weeks of follow-up, patients in the routine-care group (n = 128) received routine radiographs whereas patients in the reduced-imaging group (n = 118) did not. The primary outcome was the Olerud-Molander Ankle Score (OMAS). Secondary outcomes were the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) foot and ankle questionnaire, health-related quality of life (HRQoL) as measured with the EuroQol-5 Dimensions-3 Levels (EQ-5D-3L) and Short Form-36 (SF-36), complications, pain, health perception, self-perceived recovery, the number of radiographs, and the indications for radiographs to be made. The outcomes were assessed at baseline and at 6, 12, 26, and 52 weeks of follow-up. Data were analyzed with use of mixed models.
Reduced imaging was noninferior compared with routine care in terms of OMAS scores (difference [β], -0.9; 95% confidence interval [CI], -6.2 to 4.4). AAOS scores, HRQoL, pain, health perception, and self-perceived recovery did not differ between groups. Patients in the reduced-imaging group received a median of 4 radiographs, whereas those in the routine-care group received a median of 5 radiographs (p < 0.05). The rates of complications were similar (27.1% [32 of 118] in the reduced-imaging group, compared with 22.7% [29 of 128] in the routine-care group, p = 0.42). The types of complications were also similar.
Implementation of a reduced-imaging protocol following an ankle fracture has no measurable negative effects on functional outcome, pain, and complication rates during the first year of follow-up. The number of follow-up radiographs can be reduced by implementing this protocol.
Therapeutic Level I. See Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.