An orthopedic implant manufacturer recently obtained approval to advertise that in laboratory tests, their joint replacement lasted 30 years. Unfortunately I think patients are misconstruing this information to believe that joint replacements will last 30 years. We have a long history of favorable laboratory studies that do not end up accurate when it comes to patient survival in joint replacement. Laboratory data gives us an indication of how things may well behave inside the human body but do not tell the whole picture. There are several factors that affect longevity in joint replacement, including the quality of the surgical procedure, the patient’s weight and activity, the implants used, among others.
Obviously the behavior of the implant under testing condition is important but by no means conclusive of how long a joint replacement will last. It would be unwise to think that based on laboratory data your joint replacement will last 30 years; therefore, this kind of advertising at a minimum can be misleading to the public.
The only real studies that are of value when it comes to longevity are long-term clinical followup studying the survivorship of a particular procedure with a particular implant.
— William P. Barrett, MD