Does Complexity Always Correlate With Compensation? An Analysis of Work Relative Value Units in 3 Common Nerve Decompression Syndromes

Andres F. Doval, Kieran Boochoon, Hung B. Le, Nikhilesh V. Mehra, Shari Liberman, Joshua D. Harris, Anthony Echo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Work relative value units (wRVUs) are part of Resource Based Relative Value Scale system. It is expected that a more difficult and time-consuming procedure would yield higher wRVUs. Brachial plexus nerve decompression surgery is a more time-consuming procedure compared with carpal and cubital tunnel procedures. The aim of this study was to analyze physician reimbursement in upper limb decompression procedures by comparing mean operative times, wRVUs per minute, and dollars per minute.

METHODS: A retrospective cohort study was conducted from June 2016 to June 2019, including all patients who underwent carpal tunnel, cubital tunnel, and brachial plexus release procedures. Operating time was collected, and calculations of mean operative time, wRVUs per minute, and dollars per minute were performed and compared between groups.

RESULTS: A total of 209 cases were included. Carpal tunnel accounted for 75.1% of the cases, followed by cubital tunnel and brachial plexus releases. Brachial plexus release had the highest median operative time (147 minutes), followed by cubital tunnel (57 minutes) and carpal tunnel release (16 minutes, P < 0.0001). Carpal tunnel release procedures had a significantly higher wRVUs per minute (0.310) when compared with cubital tunnel and brachial pleaxus release procedures, 0.127 and 0.077, respectively (P < 0.0001). Same was true for dollars per minute; carpal tunnel procedures yielded significantly more compensation than cubital tunnel and thoracic outlet procedures (P < 0.0001).

CONCLUSIONS: More complex and time-consuming procedures yielded a lower reimbursement for physicians. The current work relative unit system does not account adequately for the time spent in each procedure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)208-211
Number of pages4
JournalAnnals of plastic surgery
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2022


  • Nerve compression syndromes
  • Reimbursement mechanisms
  • Relative value scales
  • Upper extremity
  • Neurosurgical Procedures
  • Humans
  • Cubital Tunnel Syndrome/surgery
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome/surgery
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Decompression

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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