My daughter and her 3rd-grade friends all like to play soccer. The also like bikes and scooters and gymnastics and monkey bars. Not surprisingly falls happen, and with these falls come broken arms. And with broken arms come the casts, arm slings, and big healthcare bills….but why?

This summer, one of my daughter’s soccer friends broke her wrist. She went to her Pediatrician and got an X-ray, a splint for a week, and was referred to an Orthopedist for a cast. 4 weeks and $1700 of healthcare later, she was as good as new.

Then this week a case of bad news/good news struck our household. Bad news: my daughter fell from the monkey bars and broke not one but both wrists! The good news was relatively small, and only financial: I’m a healthcare insider so both broken arms got treated for less than $200 total.

Medical fact: an easy majority of wrist fractures in this age group are torus fractures or non-displaced greenstick injuries. Can these be treated by an Orthopedist? Yes. Do they need to be? Certainly not. Would seeing Ortho be a huge expense with my family’s high-deductible plan? Most definitely.

Fortunately, I know where to get X-rays for $59, so one hour and $118 later we had two wrists worth of digital images in my email inbox, along with the Radiologist’s report. Then it was off to Walgreens, where $24 each got a pair of size small wrist splints. In summary: $166 invested and less than 2 hours spent from injury to the solution.

It’s weird though, all the parents of kids who have broken their wrist see my daughter with her splints, and I can tell that they are confused:

“What, did she sprain her wrists?” Nope, they’re broken. But fortunately, her Dad is up to date on the medical literature.

“But she won’t have a cast for her friends to sign!” True, but these are removable for her to shower, and her parents don’t have to take her to a single follow-up appointment.

“But you’ll take her to the Ortho Doctor, right?” No. Statistically, she has a 99+% chance of healing without complication, and that <1% requires her to fall and re-break the wrist...so no!

There is plenty of research supporting my splint-forward approach, including this one that I forwarded to my skeptical wife. If one kid’s care cost $1700, and another could cost $200, this begs a few questions: Why the huge variance? Which parents were more inconvenienced? Which kid got better care? And what approach will you take with your own kids?

Doctor, Reader, Thinker

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