Medical guidelines suggest that most acute low back pain (LBP) substantially improve within a few weeks and that immediate use of imaging and aggressive therapies should be avoided. However, the medical community is largely ignoring these guidelines, resulting in a flood of unnecessary tests and related costs, according to a study published in the Spine Journal.
As part of the analysis, investigators poured over insurance claims from 211,551 patients, ages 18 to 64 years, with LBP. They were compared with a group of patients without LBP, matched by age, gender and employment status.
In total, 41.6% of patients with LBP had imaging tests within a few months of diagnosis. And, 69.4% used medications, with 41.6% using opioids. Average costs of LBP patients treatment was $7,211 vs. $2,382, for controls. The average cost for a LBP patient who underwent surgery was $33,931.
“Contrary to clinical guidelines, many patients with LBP start incurring significant resource use and associated expenses soon after the index diagnosis,” conclude the study’s authors. “Achieving guideline-concordant care will require substantial changes in LBP practice patterns.”
Spine Journal – May 25, 2011;Epub.