Are 3D-printed Models of Tibial Plateau Fractures a Useful Addition to Understanding Fractures for Junior Surgeons?

the Traumaplatform 3D Consortium

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Tibial plateau fractures are often complex, and they can be challenging to treat. Classifying fractures is often part of the treatment process, but intra- and interobserver reliability of fracture classification systems often is inadequate to the task, and classifications that lack reliability can mislead providers and result in harm to patients. Three-dimensionally (3D)-printed models might help in this regard, but whether that is the case for the classification of tibial plateau fractures, and whether the utility of such models might vary by the experience of the individual classifying the fractures, is unknown.

(1) Does the overall interobserver agreement improve when fractures are classified with 3D-printed models compared with conventional radiology? (2) Does interobserver agreement vary among attending and consultant trauma surgeons, senior surgical residents, and junior surgical residents? (3) Do surgeons’ and surgical residents’ confidence and accuracy improve when tibial plateau fractures are classified with an additional 3D model compared with conventional radiology?

Between 2012 and 2020, 113 patients with tibial plateau fractures were treated at a Level 1 trauma center. Forty-four patients were excluded based on the presence of bone diseases (such as osteoporosis) and the absence of a CT scan. To increase the chance to detect an improvement or deterioration and to prevent observers from losing focus during the classification, we decided to include 40 patients with tibial plateau fractures. Nine trauma surgeons, eight senior surgical residents, and eight junior surgical residents—none of whom underwent any study-specific pretraining—classified these fractures according to three often-used classification systems (Schatzker, OA/OTA, and the Luo three-column concept), with and without 3D-printed models, and they indicated their overall confidence on a 10-point Likert scale, with 0 meaning not confident at all and 10 absolutely certainty. To set the gold standard, a panel of three experienced trauma surgeons who had special expertise in knee surgery and 10 years to 25 years of experience in practice also classified the fractures until consensus was reached. The Fleiss kappa was used to determine interobserver agreement for fracture classification. Differences in confidence in assessing fractures with and without the 3D-printed model were compared using a paired t-test. Accuracy was calculated by comparing the participants’ observations with the gold standard.

The overall interobserver agreement improved minimally for fracture classification according to two of three classification systems (Schatzker: κconv = 0.514 versus κ3Dprint = 0.539; p = 0.005; AO/OTA:κconv = 0.359 versus κ3Dprint = 0.372; p = 0.03). However, none of the classification systems, even when used by our most experienced group of trauma surgeons, achieved more than moderate interobserver agreement, meaning that a large proportion of fractures were misclassified by at least one observer. Overall, there was no improvement in self-assessed confidence in classifying fractures or accuracy with 3D-printed models; confidence was high (about 7 points on a 10-point scale) as rated by all observers, despite moderate or worse accuracy and interobserver agreement

Although 3D-printed models minimally improved the overall interobserver agreement for two of three classification systems, none of the classification systems achieved more than moderate interobserver agreement. This suggests that even with 3D-printed models, many fractures would be misclassified, which could result in misleading communication, inaccurate prognostic assessments, unclear research, and incorrect treatment choices. Therefore, we cannot recommend the use of 3D-printed models in practice and research for classification of tibial plateau fractures.

Level of Evidence
Level III, diagnostic study.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1170-1177
Number of pages8
JournalClinical orthopaedics and related research
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022


  • 3D
  • printer
  • Fractures
  • Tibial Plateau
  • Junior Surgeons


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