Variation in Nonsurgical Services for Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Across a Large Integrated Health Care System

Published:December 20, 2018DOI:


      To evaluate facility-level variation in the use of services for patients with carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) receiving care in the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).


      A national cohort of VHA patients diagnosed with CTS during fiscal year 2013 was divided into nonsurgical and operative treatment groups for comparison. We assessed the use of 5 types of CTS-related services (electrodiagnostic studies [EDS], imaging, steroid injection, oral steroids, and therapeutic modalities) in the prediagnosis and postdiagnosis periods before any operative intervention at the patient and facility levels.


      Among 72,599 patients newly diagnosed with CTS, 5,666 (7.8%) received carpal tunnel release within 12 months. The remaining 66,933 (92.2%) were in the nonsurgical group. Therapeutic modalities and EDS were the most commonly employed services after the index diagnosis and had large facility-level variation in use. At the facility level, the use of therapeutic modalities ranged from 0% to 93% in the operative group (mean, 32%) compared with 1% to 67% (mean, 30%) in the nonsurgical group. The use of EDS in the postdiagnosis period ranged from 0% to 100% (mean, 59%) in the operative treatment group and 0% to 55% (mean, 26%) in the nonsurgical group at the facility level.


      There is wide facility variation in the use of services for CTS among patients receiving operative and nonsurgical treatment. Care delivered by facilities with the highest and lowest rates of service use may suggest overuse and underuse, respectively, of nonsurgical CTS services and a lack of consideration of individual patient factors in making health care decisions regarding use.

      Clinical relevance

      Surgeons must understand the degree of treatment variability for CTS, comprehend the ramifications of large variation in reimbursement and waste in the health care system, and become involved in devising strategies to optimize hand care across all phases of care.

      Key words

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