Back, Neck Pain Account for More Health Care Spending
U.S. spending on diagnosis and treatment of spinal problems increased from 1997 to 2005, but the percentage of patients who reported physical, professional and social limitations as a result of such conditions also increased during the same period, according to a study published on Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Reuters/Los Angeles Times reports (Reuters/Los Angeles Times, 2/13).
For the study, led by Brook Martin of the Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at the University of Washington, researchers analyzed data from household surveys conducted by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality annually from 1997 to 2005.
The surveys each year included responses from about 23,000 U.S. residents. Researchers used the surveys, which included pharmacy and medical record data, to estimate spending on diagnosis and treatment of spinal problems (Parker-Pope, New York Times, 2/13).
According to the study, although spending on diagnosis and treatment of spinal problems increased by an estimated 65% from 1997 to 2005, the percentage of patients who reported physical, professional and social limitations as a result of such conditions increased from an estimated 20.4% to 24.7% during the same period (Reuters/Los Angeles Times, 2/13).
The study found that outpatient spending on spinal problems increased by an estimated 74%, to about $31 million, from 1997 to 2005 and that spending on emergency care for such conditions increased by an estimated 46%, to about $2.6 billion, during the same period. In addition, the study found that spending on surgeries and other inpatient hospital care for spinal problems increased by an estimated 25%, to about $24 billion, from 1997 to 2005.
Martin said, "We're putting a lot of money into this problem, and it's a big investment in health care expenditures, but we're not seeing health status commensurate with those investments" (New York Times, 2/13). Martin added, "Nobody has a good answer for how much is too much" treatment for spinal problems (Rubin, USA Today, 2/13).
Richard Deyo, a physician at the Oregon Health and Science University and a co-author of the study, said, "I do worry there is a combination of side effects and unnecessary treatments, and labeling people as being fragile when they're really not." He added, "The combination of those kinds of things may actually be in some cases doing more harm than good" (New York Times, 2/13).
However, Stephen Ondra, an associate professor of neurological surgery at Northwestern University, said that, because the study involved an analysis of surveys, the results are "not a valid tool to assess treatment or outcome" (Lopatto, Bloomberg/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/13).