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Variability in the Definition and Perceived Causes of Delayed Unions and NonunionsA Cross-Sectional, Multinational Survey of Orthopaedic Surgeons
Mohit Bhandari, MD, PhD, FRCSC1; Katie Fong, BSc1; Sheila Sprague, MSc1; Dale Williams, MD, FRCSC1; Bradley Petrisor, MD, FRCSC1
1 Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, Department of Surgery (M.B., D.W., and B.P.), and Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics (K.F. and S.S.), McMaster University, 293 Wellington Street North, Suite 110, Hamilton, ON L8L 8E7, Canada. E-mail address for M. Bhandari: bhandam@mcmaster.ca
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Investigation performed at the Department of Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics and the Division of Orthopaedic Surgery, Department of Surgery, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

Disclosure: One or more of the authors received payments or services, either directly or indirectly (i.e., via his or her institution), from a third party in support of an aspect of this work. In addition, one or more of the authors, or his or her institution, has had a financial relationship, in the thirty-six months prior to submission of this work, with an entity in the biomedical arena that could be perceived to influence or have the potential to influence what is written in this work. No author has had any other relationships, or has engaged in any other activities, that could be perceived to influence or have the potential to influence what is written in this work. The complete Disclosures of Potential Conflicts of Interest submitted by authors are always provided with the online version of the article.

Copyright © 2012 by The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Inc.
J Bone Joint Surg Am, 2012 Aug 01;94(15):e109 1-6. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.K.01344
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Despite the large number of fracture outcome studies, there remains variability in the definitions of fracture-healing. It is unclear how orthopaedic surgeons are diagnosing and managing delayed unions and nonunions in clinical practice. We aimed to explore the current opinions of orthopaedic surgeons with regard to defining, diagnosing, and treating delayed unions and nonunions in extremity fractures.


We developed a survey using previous literature, key informants in the field of orthopaedic surgery, and a sample-to-redundancy strategy. Our final survey contained four sections and twenty-nine questions focusing on demographics and surgical experience, definitions of fracture union, prognostic factors for union, and the need for clinical trials. The Internet-based survey and follow-up e-mails were continued until our a priori sample size of a minimum of 320 completed and eligible responses were collected.


Three hundred and thirty-five surgeons completed the survey. The typical respondent was a North American, male orthopaedic surgeon or consultant over the age of thirty years who had completed trauma fellowship training, worked in an academic practice, supervised residents, and had more than six years of experience in treating orthopaedic injuries. Most surgeons endorsed a lack of standardization in definitions for delayed unions (73%) and nonunions (55%); almost all agreed that defining a delayed union and nonunion should be done on the basis of both radiographic and clinical criteria (88%). Most respondents believed that the degree of soft-tissue injury (approximately 93%), smoking history (approximately 82%), and vascular disease (approximately 76%) increased the risk of healing complications.


Surgeons use similar prognostic factors to define and assess delayed unions and nonunions, but there is a lack of consensus in the definitions of delayed union and nonunion. The need for standardization and future randomized trials was strongly endorsed.

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    Accreditation Statement
    These activities have been planned and implemented in accordance with the Essential Areas and policies of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) through the joint sponsorship of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery, Inc. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons is accredited by the ACCME to provide continuing medical education for physicians.
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