Reliability of Routine Radiographs for Conservatively Treated Metacarpal Shaft and Neck Fractures

Document Type : RESEARCH PAPER


Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia, PA, USA


Background: To investigate the reliability of orthopedic hand surgeons to evaluate radiographic healing in initial and
follow-up radiographs of the conservatively treated metacarpal shaft and neck fractures. The rationale for this study
was to reduce the rate of unnecessary, routine radiographs when treating metacarpal fractures.
Methods: Forty sets of digital x-rays, twenty at the initial visit and twenty at the 4-week follow-up, were randomly
selected and reviewed. Three hand surgeons evaluated the x-rays for (1) fracture location, (2) radiograph timing,
(3) healing status, (4) percentage healed, (5) angulation, and (6) confidence in healing status. Observers reviewed
studies in random order and evaluated the same set of radiographs one month after the initial review. Intra- and
interobserver agreements were analyzed using Fleiss’ kappa (κ) for all parameters and all possible observer
Results: Interobserver and intraobserver reliability was highest when evaluating fracture location and lowest when
assessing the percentage healed. The interobserver reliability was fair for radiograph timing and healing status and
fair-to-moderate for angulation. The intraobserver reliability was moderate for radiograph timing and healing status and
moderate-to-substantial for angulation. Observers correctly differentiated initial vs. follow-up images 62% of the time
and reported to feel somewhat certain in their evaluation of healing status.
Conclusion: When evaluating initial and 4-week follow-up radiographs, hand surgeons were somewhat confident
in their assessment of healing but had less than substantial intra- and interobserver reliability following radiographic
evaluation. Due to their poor reproducibility, routine radiographs may be unnecessary when evaluating conservatively
treated metacarpal fractures. Further studies and guidelines that identify clear indications for the use of routine imaging
in metacarpal fracture care are warranted.
Level of evidence: II


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