What Do Reported Learning Curves Mean for Orthopaedic Surgeons?
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Practicing orthopaedic surgeons must assess the effects of the learning curve on patient safety and surgical outcomes if a new implant, technique, or approach is being considered; however, it remains unclear how learning curves reported in the literature should be interpreted and to what extent their results can be generalized. Learning curve reports from other surgical specialties and from orthopaedic surgery can be analyzed to identify the strengths and weaknesses of learning curve reporting. Single-surgeon series and registry data can be analyzed to understand learning challenges and to develop a personalized learning plan. Learning curve reports from single-surgeon series have several limitations that result from the limited dataset reported and inconsistencies in the way data are reported. Conversely, learning curve reports from registry data are likely to have greater generalizability, but are largely beneficial retrospectively, after data from a sufficient number of surgeons are assessed. There is a pressing need for surgeons to develop improved and consistent standards for learning curve reporting. Although registry data may provide better prospective measures in the future, the implementation of such registries faces several challenges. Despite substantial limitations, single-surgeon series remain the most effective way for practicing surgeons to assess their learning challenge and develop an appropriate learning plan.
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