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Hospital for Special Surgery Develops First-Ever Questionnaire to Measure Impact of Brachial Plexus Injury and Assess Surgical Outcomes

Questionnaire designed to measure physical and psychological effects of BPI and help manage patients’ treatment expectations

New York, NY—February 7, 2018

After extensive research, investigators at Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) have developed the first-ever patient questionnaire to measure the physical and emotional impact of brachial plexus injury (BPI). The survey also seeks to assess patients’ expectations and treatment outcomes.

The research and the copyrighted questionnaire were published in the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery today.

The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that extends from the spinal cord in the neck, under the collarbone and down the arm. These nerves control the shoulder, arm, elbow, wrist and hand. A brachial plexus injury (BPI) can be life-altering. People often suffer from severe, unrelenting pain and can lose the use of their arm and hand.

"A brachial plexus injury has a profound impact on quality of life," said Carol A. Mancuso, MD, a senior scientist at HSS and lead investigator. "Patients are usually young adults who sustained trauma, such as from a motor vehicle accident or sports injury."

Dr. Mancuso and orthopedic surgeons specializing in complex nerve reconstruction surgery for BPI sought to develop a questionnaire to thoroughly understand the injury’s impact on patients. "The sudden nature of the injury can lead to a realm of psychological challenges, such as emotional distress, loss of independence, and depression, that can overwhelm patients and potentially hamper recovery," said Dr. Mancuso, who specializes in developing surveys and questionnaires at HSS. "Capturing these psychological elements is necessary to thoroughly understand disability and recovery from this complex condition."

"The questionnaire is important because it moves beyond the surgeon’s interpretation of the outcomes of surgery and gets to the heart of patient needs, expectations, and functional satisfaction," said Scott W. Wolfe, MD, director of the Center for Brachial Plexus and Traumatic Nerve Injury at HSS. "It probes the emotional as well as the physical impact of the injury and realizes data that is not identified in any other outcome measure."

Dr. Mancuso developed the questionnaire based on patient input, with preoperative and postoperative versions. Patients with BPI who were undergoing or had already undergone surgical reconstruction were enrolled during routine office visits at HSS.

The study had three phases. Phase 1 included interviews with patients using open-ended questions addressing the impact of BPI and improvement expected before surgery (preoperative patients) or received (postoperative patients). Phase 2 involved assembling a draft questionnaire and administering it twice to establish test-retest reliability. Phase 3 involved selecting final items, developing a scoring system, and assessing validity. Patient scores using the questionnaire were assessed in comparison with scores of the Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder and Hand (DASH) and RAND-36 measures.

The HSS preoperative and postoperative surveys both include questions rating the severity of BPI symptoms; assess difficulty with activities of daily living, such as getting dressed; address psychological issues, such as depression; and ask how the injury has affected school or work. The preoperative questionnaire also assesses how much improvement patients expect from treatment, while the postoperative version asks how much improvement patients believe they received from surgery or another treatment.

Dr. Mancuso noted that the questionnaire has the potential to improve patient care. "First, it provides a template from which patients can discuss the spectrum of physical and emotional effects of BPI with their surgical team. This, in turn, offers providers the opportunity to comprehensively address patients’ needs directly or through a referral," she said. "Second, the questionnaire fosters discussion of realistic outcome expectations, which are necessary to maintain motivation and ensure long-term participation in rehabilitation. This also enables patients to make appropriate plans for school or work activities."

"We will be able to tell what matters most to patients and then see if we achieved their goals," said Steve K. Lee, MD, director of research, Center for Brachial Plexus and Traumatic Nerve Injury. "Other outcomes measurements were not specific enough to this unique, complex patient population."

Dr. Wolfe noted, "The questionnaire will, without a doubt, improve patient care by aligning surgical and treatment alternatives with patient needs and expectations."

In addition, the survey plays a role in assessing outcomes of highly specialized nerve reconstruction surgery to repair brachial plexus injury, according to Dr. Mancuso. "The questionnaire provides a valid and standardized method for clinicians and researchers to document and compare patient-reported outcomes from specific or novel surgical interventions."

This work was supported by the J.W. Kieckhefer Foundation, the Howard J. Golden Family Research Fund, and a Richard Menschel institutional award.

Institutions that wish to receive a copy of the questionnaire, which is copyrighted, are invited to contact Dr. Mancuso via email: MancusoC@hss.edu.

About the Center for Brachial Plexus and Traumatic Nerve Injury at HSS

The Center for Brachial Plexus and Traumatic Nerve Injury at Hospital for Special Surgery is a national resource for men and women of all ages, providing diagnostic and reconstructive options for patients with injuries to or dysfunction of the peripheral nerve and brachial plexus. Using a multidisciplinary approach, the center utilizes the expertise of a wide range of health care professionals including orthopedic surgeons, physiatrists, neurologists, radiologists, psychiatrists, rheumatologists, pain management specialists, physical therapists and anesthesiologists, so that patients can benefit from a coordinated treatment experience. For more information, visit: http://www.hss.edu/brachialplexuscenter


About HSS | Hospital for Special Surgery
HSS is the world’s leading academic medical center focused on musculoskeletal health. At its core is Hospital for Special Surgery, nationally ranked No. 1 in orthopedics (for the ninth consecutive year) and No. 3 in rheumatology by U.S.News & World Report (2018-2019). Founded in 1863, the Hospital has one of the lowest infection rates in the country and was the first in New York State to receive Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Service from the American Nurses Credentialing Center four consecutive times. The global standard total knee replacement was developed at HSS in 1969. An affiliate of Weill Cornell Medical College, HSS has a main campus in New York City and facilities in New Jersey, Connecticut and in the Long Island and Westchester County regions of New York State. In 2017 HSS provided care to 135,000 patients and performed more than 32,000 surgical procedures. People from all 50 U.S. states and 80 countries travelled to receive care at HSS. In addition to patient care, HSS leads the field in research, innovation and education. The HSS Research Institute comprises 20 laboratories and 300 staff members focused on leading the advancement of musculoskeletal health through prevention of degeneration, tissue repair and tissue regeneration. The HSS Global Innovation Institute was formed in 2016 to realize the potential of new drugs, therapeutics and devices. The culture of innovation is accelerating at HSS as 130 new idea submissions were made to the Global Innovation Institute in 2017 (almost 3x the submissions in 2015). The HSS Education Institute is the world’s leading provider of education on the topic of musculoskeletal health, with its online learning platform offering more than 600 courses to more than 21,000 medical professional members worldwide. Through HSS Global Ventures, the institution is collaborating with medical centers and other organizations to advance the quality and value of musculoskeletal care and to make world-class HSS care more widely accessible nationally and internationally.


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