Orthopedic Surgeons & Their Patients Clamor for the Establishment of a National Joint Registry

By Ruth Folger Weiss

A few months after undergoing routine hip replacements, a number of patients of  a well known LA orthopedic surgeon started suffering from excruciating pains. The surgeon, Dr. Lawrence Dorr, was stymied until he discovered one factor they all had in common; the same replacement joint, manufactured by Zimmer Holdings, was implanted in all of them. Several needed to have their replacement replaced in another bout of surgery. When Zimmer was first contacted about this problem, they just brushed it off. It took a year of more complaints and pressure from doctors until they pulled this device off the market. In the interim many more patients unknowingly had their joints replaced with a faulty Zimmer “Durom Cup” with crippling results.

This upsetting scenario could have been avoided, and many patients could have been spared the agony, if the U.S. would have a Joint Registry in place. A Joint Registry is a national database that tracks the well being of patients with artificial hips and knees. Countries such as Australia, Britain, Norway and Sweden have such a system in place and the benefits are numerous. Tracking the success rates of the different joints available results in the faulty ones being pulled from the market much quicker. The registry data puts pressure on manufacturers to explain why their products perform poorly and the registry alerts surgeon to stop using flawed joints.

Monitoring devices like artificial joints supposedly falls under the domain of the The Food and Drug Administration but they are often overwhelmed by the vast number of products it monitors and because doctors often do not report problems.

Nearly one million hips and knees were replaced in the U.S. alone last year, about half of the world’s total. As the world’s leader in joint replacement, the U.S. should take the initiative and be the leader in follow-up too.  So far all efforts to establish a database here have failed due to the many hurdles, financial and practical, of our fragmented and decentralized health care system, as well as a lack of support from Medicare.

30. July 2008 by Ruth Folger Weiss
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