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Demand for joint replacement keeps rising as number of surgeon doing them falls

X-ray of a pelvis showing a total hip joint replacement.
X-ray of a pelvis showing a total hip joint replacement.
National Institutes of Health

According to the a survey conducted by Dr. Daniel J. Berry, the Mayo Clinic’s chairman of orthopedic surgery, at least 2 out of every hundred people in the US now have artificial knees and/or hips. In fact, they report that 5% of all those over 50 have had their knees replaced, while approximately 2% are sporting artificial hips.

“That translates to about 7 million people across the country,” he stated, adding that “more than 600,000 knees and 400,000 hips are replaced here each year.”

Yet, while patients are literally lining up to have the procedures done, a recent report in Health Day noted that there are a lot less doctors around to do them.

The report, based on a study by orthopedic surgeon Dr. Thomas K. Fehring of OrthoCarolina in Charlotte, NC, a lot of younger doctors are choosing to forgo the specialty due in great part to “low insurance reimbursements. In fact, reimbursement for joint replacement has decreased 60% in inflation adjusted dollars since 1990, he stated.

"These economic realities are not lost on our residents in training when selecting a career," Fehring said. "Unless things change, this will lead to excessive waiting times for our senior citizens requiring joint replacement. By 2016, nearly 200,000 patients who require hip replacement and 750,000 patients who require knee replacement will not be able to have their surgery performed, because there will not be enough orthopedic surgeons available to do the procedure," he predicted during the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons annual meeting, in Las Vegas last month.