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Billig JI, Lu YT, Hayward RA, Sears ED. Surgical Timing for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: A Comparison of Health Care Delivery in the Veterans Administration and Private Sector. The Journal of hand surgery. 2021 Jul 1; 46(7):544-551.
PURPOSE: The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system monitors time from referral to specialist visit. We compared wait times for carpal tunnel release (CTR) at a VA hospital and its academic affiliate. METHODS: We selected patients who underwent CTR at a VA hospital and its academic affiliate (AA) (2010-2015). We analyzed time from primary care physician (PCP) referral to CTR, which was subdivided into PCP referral to surgical consultation and surgical consultation to CTR. Electrodiagnostic testing (EDS) was categorized in relation to surgical consultation (prereferral vs postreferral). Multivariable Cox proportional hazard models were used to examine associations between clinical variables and surgical location. RESULTS: Between 2010 and 2015, VA patients had a shorter median time from PCP referral to CTR (VA: 168 days; AA: 410 days), shorter time from PCP referral to surgical consultation (VA: 43 days; AA: 191 days), but longer time from surgical consultation to CTR (VA: 98 days; AA: 55 days). Using multivariable models, the VA was associated with a 35% shorter time to CTR (AA hazard ratio [HR], 0.65; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.52-0.82) and 75% shorter time to surgical consultation (AA HR, 0.25; 95% CI, 0.20-0.03). Receiving both prereferral and postreferral EDS was associated with almost a 2-fold prolonged time to CTR (AA HR, 0.49; 95% CI, 0.36-0.67). CONCLUSIONS: The VA was associated with shorter overall time to CTR compared with its AA. However, the VA policy of prioritizing time from referral to surgical consultation may not optimally incentivize time to surgery. Repeat EDS was associated with longer wait times in both systems. CLINICAL RELEVANCE: Given differences in where delays occur in each health care system, initiatives to improve efficiency will require targeting the appropriate sources of preoperative delay. Judicious use of EDS may be one avenue to decrease wait times in both systems.