Using surgery to predict the health of the U.S. economy

Last year, some brave minds realized that, "To the best of our knowledge, there have been no previous studies evaluating the correlation of the US economy and hand surgery volume." I know, I'm shocked too. So they set out to determine whether the amount of hand surgeries could predict the strength or weakness of the US economy. The answer may surprise you.

The researchers at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio decided to compare 17 years worth of hand surgery data to the strength of the US economy, as determined by various stock indices. They considered hand surgeries that were both orthopedic in nature (say, fixing carpal tunnel) and more elective surgeries performed by the plastic surgery department. They also considered liposuction and breast augmentation as control groups for the hand surgery data.

And why were they doing this? Unclear, but it apparently has something to do with the recession. Presumably, if all it took to restore the economy was more hand surgeries, the doctors would have done their patriotic duty and started operating on every hand they saw. But let's not get ahead of ourselves...is there a correlation between the economy and the amount of hand surgeries being performed? Well...

A combined total of 7884 hand surgery carpal tunnel release (open or endoscopic) patients were identified. There were 1927 (24%) and 5957 (76%) patients within the departments of plastic and orthopedic surgery, respectively. In the plastic surgery department, there was a strong negative (ie, inverse relationship) correlation between hand surgery volume and the economy (P < 0.001). In converse, the orthopedic department's hand surgery volume demonstrated a positive (ie, parallel) correlation (P < 0.001). The volumes of liposuction and breast augmentation also showed a positive correlation (P < 0.001).

So...elective hand surgeries go down when the economy is bad, but orthopedic surgeries go up, as do liposuction and breast implants. I'm sure this is all fascinating and really important, but tell me researchers...what does this mean!?

To our knowledge, we have demonstrated for the first time an inverse (ie, negative) correlation between hand surgery volumes performed by plastic surgeons in relation to the US economy, as represented by the 3 major market indices. In contrast, orthopedic hand surgery volume and cosmetic surgery show a parallel (ie, positive) correlation. This data suggests that plastic surgeons are increasing their cosmetic surgery-to-reconstructive/hand surgery ratio during strong economic times and vice versa during times of economic slowdown.

That...didn't tell me as much as I had hoped. I guess we'll never know the ancient secret of why hand surgeries predict the economy. Perhaps there are some things humanity just wasn't meant to know...

[via NCBI ROFL]