BACKGROUND: Hand trauma call duties at university medical centers are traditionally split among plastic surgeons and orthopedic surgeons, frequently without additional fellowship training in hand and upper-extremity surgery. Differences in operative approach between these groups have never been specifically described. The University Health Consortium—Association of American Medical Colleges Faculty Practice Solutions Center database contains comprehensive, factual, billing and coding data from 90 academic medical centers in the United States and can be used to characterize the practice patterns of various academic surgical specialties. OBJECTIVE: To characterize and compare the clinical experience of academic plastic, orthopedic, and hand surgeons in addressing traumatic distal upper extremity injuries (using the Faculty Practice Solutions Center data set). METHODS: Annual data for CPT defined procedures related to traumatic injuries of the nail bed, finger, hand, wrist, and forearm performed by plastic, orthopedic, and hand surgeons during calendar years 2010 to 2013 were included in the study. RESULTS: From 2010 to 2013, the experience of fellowship-trained hand surgeons in treating traumatic distal upper extremity injuries was consistently greater than that of plastic surgeons and general orthopedic surgeons across all categories. Injuries of the nail bed were repaired more frequently by plastic surgeons than orthopedic surgeons (average 1.3 annual procedures per surgeon for plastic surgeons compared with 0.3 for orthopedic surgeons). Fractures and dislocations involving the phalanx and metacarpal were repaired equally by both groups, with plastic surgeons using predominantly percutaneous (38%) or open methods (45% of repairs), and orthopedic surgeons using mostly closed reduction (59% of repairs), splinting, and casting. Fractures and dislocations involving the carpal bones, radius, and ulna were more frequently repaired by orthopedic surgeons (average 23.2 procedures versus 2.6 for plastic surgeons), whereas tendon repairs in all segments were performed more frequently by plastic surgeons (average 13.7 procedures versus 2.5 for orthopedic surgeons). Replantation and repair of neurovascular injuries were exceedingly rare (less than 1 occurrence) in all groups for all years and are not specifically reported in Table 1. Similarly, incision and drainage procedures and decompressive fasciotomies of the distal upper extremity were uncommonly performed and also not included (Table 1 displays the mean annual procedures per surgeon by grouped CPT coded procedures, with overall averages displayed to the right. Figure 1 displays the proportions of intra-articular and extra-articular bony hand injuries treated by closed, open, and percutaneous methods by each specialty). CONCLUSIONS: A large degree of variation exists in the treatment of distal upper extremity injuries, based on specialty service. Hand surgeons, not surprisingly, have the most robust clinical experience, whereas plastic surgeons and orthopedic surgeons each display varying strengths and weaknesses, perhaps a consequence of their respective training.
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