Shoulder problems account for 2.4% of GP consultations in the United Kingdom and of those 70% are related to the rotator cuff. Many rotator cuff tears are of a degenerate nature but they can occur as a result of trauma in 8% of cases. Evidence suggests that patients with traumatic rotator cuff tears gain a better outcome in terms of pain and function if the tear is repaired early after injury.
A specialist shoulder soft tissue injury clinic was set up in a large UK NHS teaching hospital with the primary purpose in the first year to halve the length of time patients with traumatic rotator cuff tears had to wait to consult a specialist and double the number of patients undergoing surgical repair within three months. The secondary purpose was to ensure that the new clinic was utilised to capacity by the end of the first year. The clinic was later expanded to manage patients with acute glenohumeral joint (GHJ) or acromioclavicular joint (ACJ) dislocations and identify those patients requiring surgical stabilisation. The new service involved referral of all patients presenting to the Accident & Emergency department with recent shoulder trauma and either an inability to raise the arm over shoulder height with a normal set of radiographs, or a confirmed GHJ or ACJ dislocation; to a specialist clinic run by an experienced upper limb physiotherapist. Patients were reassessed and referred for further imaging if required. Those patients found to have traumatic rotator cuff tears or structural instability lesions were listed for expedited surgery. The clinic ran alongside a consultant-led fracture clinic giving fast access to surgical decision-making. The service was reviewed after 3, 6, and 12 months and findings compared to a sample of 30 consecutive patients having undergone rotator cuff repair surgery via the previous pathway.
144 patients were referred to the clinic in the first year: 62 with rotator cuff symptoms, 38 with GHJ instability, 13 with ACJ instability, and 33 others. 7 missed fractures were identified. 12 patients subsequently underwent rotator cuff repair surgery, 10 GHJ stabilisation, and 1 ACJ stabilisation. Mean referral time to first clinical assessment improved from 37 days to 8 days. For rotator cuff repair: mean referral to surgery time was 86 days compared with 115 days on the old pathway. 58% of patients underwent surgery within 90 days of injury compared with 20% previously.
Our new service resulted in surgical repair of traumatic rotator cuff tears 29 days faster than the traditional system with an extra 38% of patients having surgery within 90 days of injury - a benchmark thought to improve outcome. Future work will aim to improve this percentage further and include long term patient follow up of outcome measures after surgery.