Would you go to see an emergency room doctor for treatment of your painful back?
Busy emergency room doctors don't want us there either. They are busy saving peoples' lives.
But, this recent report from the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) indicates that more people are getting treatment for lower back pain in the emergency room than might be warranted.
Hospitalizations doubled from 1993 to 2008 for patients with back problems.
Hospitalized patients with back pain cost $14,338 while patients without back pain cost $9,055. This may be due to the outlier effect of increasing rates of complex, multi-level spinal fusion surgeries that cost $88,000.
"...hospitalizations for back problems in general were more expensive than all other inpatient stays..."The aggregate costs for inpatient stays principally for back problems was over $9.5 billion in 2008, making it the 9th most expensive condition treated in U.S. hospitals.
A study from North Carolina followed-up on 5,357 households to calculate the trend in disability due to lower back problems. From 1992 to 2006 chronic, impairing lower back pain rose in North Carolina from 3.9% to 10.2% of the population.
The study authors speculated the causes might be the following:
- Rising rates of Obesity: the number of obese people in North Carolina has increased from 13.4% to 26.6% of the population. Obesity is defined a Body Mass Index greater than 30.0 (weight in kilograms per height in meters squared).
- Increases in depression prevalence: rates of depression doubled from 3.3% to 7.06% through 2002. Chronic pain and depression are linked and individuals with depression are 3 times more likely to develop lower back pain.
- Medicalization of lower back pain: competing healthcare professionals, some advertising on the Internet, have increased public awareness of treatment possibilities despite the fact that many of these treatments are expensive and offer no better long-term improvement than no treatment.
Heavy, Sad and High Tech
According to a recent report in the Journal of the American College of Radiology up to 50% of diagnostic imaging tests are unnecessary and don't add to the patient's improvement.
Imaging scans cost $100 billion annually and these costs are growing 17% per year.
Physician could improve their targeted care of emergent conditions and better serve patient in need by reducing unnecessary imaging for lower back pain.
The following guideline from the American College of Radiology shows a clinical summary of imaging advice.
Further, physicians could reduce the medicalization of common, age-related physical impairments associated with lower back pain by encouraging their patients to exercise and take care of themselves before problems arise.