Chiropractors Reduce Costs by 40% if the 1st Option for Spine
DC’s Would Save the Healthcare System 1.86 Trillion Dollars Over 10 Years
By: Matt Erickson, DC, FSBT
Mark Studin DC, FASBE(C), DAAPM, DAAMLP
A report on the scientific literature
Citation: Erickson M., Studin M (2019) Chiropractors Reduce Costs by 40% if the 1st Option for Spine, American Chiropractor 41(8) 38, 40-43
Currently, our country is facing a health care crisis not only with respect to the opioid epidemic, but also due the fact our health care costs in the US have skyrocketed out of control. According to Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), National Health Expense (NHE) fact sheet (2017), “NHE grew 3.9% to $3.5 trillion in 2017, or $10,739 per person, and accounted for 17.9% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).” It was also predicted by CMS (2017) that “Under current law, national health spending is projected to grow at an average rate of 5.5 percent per year for 2018-27 and to reach nearly $6.0 trillion by 2027”(https://www.cms.gov/research-statistics-data-and-systems/statistics-trends-and-reports/nationalhealthexpenddata/nhe-fact-sheet.html).
In a study from data primarily from 2013-2016, Papanicolas, Woskie and Jha (2018) reported, “The United States spends more per capita on health care than any other nation, substantially outpacing even other very high-income countries. However, despite its higher spending, the United States performs poorly in areas such as health care coverage and health outcomes” (p. 1025).
Papanicolas et al., (2018), also stated, “The United States spent approximately twice as much as other high-income countries on medical care, yet utilization rates in the United States were largely similar to those in other nations. Prices of labor and goods, including pharmaceuticals, and administrative costs appeared to be the major drivers of the difference in overall cost between the United States and other high-income countries” (p. 1038). Papanicolas et al., (2018), reported, “Ten high-income countries were selected for comparison” (p. 1025). The ten countries included, “the United Kingdom (consisting of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland), Canada, Germany, Australia, Japan, Sweden, France, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Switzerland” (p. 1025).
Singh, Andersson and Watkins-Castillo (2019, para. 1) reported “Lumbar/low back pain and cervical/neck pain are among the most common medical conditions requiring medical care and affecting an individual’s ability to work and manage the daily activities of life. Back pain is the most common physical condition for which patients visit their doctor. In any given year, between 12% and 14% of the United States adult population age 18 and older visit their physician with complaints of back pain. The number of physician visits has increased steadily over the years. In 2013, more than 57.1 million patients visited a physician with a complaint of back pain, compared to 50.6 million in 2010. Also, an unknown number of patients visit a chiropractor or physical therapist for these complaints. Singh et. al (2019, para. 4) further reported, “The estimated annual direct medical cost for all persons with a back-related condition in 2014 dollars was an average of $315 billion per year across the years 2012-2014” (https://www.boneandjointburden.org/fourth-edition/iia0/low-back-and-neck-pain).
According to Cynthia Cox of the Kaiser Family Foundation (2017) reporting on data from 2013, The top five disease-based spending categories (ill-defined conditions, circulatory, musculoskeletal, respiratory, and endocrine) account for half of all medical services spending by disease category. Ill-defined conditions each represent about 13% of overall health spending by disease while circulatory, musculoskeletal, respiratory, and endocrine conditions represent 12%, 10%, 8%, and 7% respectively.” That is to say, musculoskeletal disease represents 10% of the health care expenditures” (https://www.healthsystemtracker.org/chart-collection/much-u-s-spend-treat-different-diseases/#item-top-five-disease-categories-account-roughly-half-medical-service-spending).
The above graphic is from the 2017 Peterson-Kaiser report, “How much does the U.S. spend to treat different disease?”
As neck and back pain in one of the most prevalent issues that present to primary care physician (PCP) offices, considering the current opioid crisis and the associated health care expenditure, particularly related to neck and back pain, this raises the question if Doctors of Chiropractic-who are licensed to manage spinal disorders and comprehensive training in spine care, can not only provide similar or better outcomes and greater or equivalent satisfaction among patients, but provide care in a more cost effective manner, as well as help to unburden the already overloaded primary care practices considering the trending shortage of PCPs in our health care delivery system?
In an article by Houweling, Braga, Hausheer, Vogelsang, Peterson and Humphreys (2015), the authors reported on first-contact care with a medical vs. a chiropractic provider after a consultation with a Swiss telemedicine provider. The study looked to compare outcomes, patients satisfisfaction and health care costs in spinal, hip and shoulder pain patients.
Houweling et al., (2019), reported that “Pain of musculoskeletal origin represents a major health problem worldwide. In a Swiss survey conducted in 2007, back pain was a commonly reported health problem, with 43% of the population experiencing this complaint over the course of a year. Of these, 33% reported that their symptoms led to reduced productivity at work. The burden of musculoskeletal conditions on the Swiss health care system is equally staggering, with health care expenditure resulting from this condition being estimated at 14 billion Swiss Francs (CHF) per year (US $14 billion) or 3.2% of the gross domestic product” (p. 478-479).
The study by Houweling et al., (2019), also showed that spinal, hip, and shoulder pain patients had modestly higher pain relief and satisfaction with care at lower overall cost if they initiated care with DCs, when compared with those who initiated care with MDs” (p. 480). Houweling et al., further added, “Although the differences in pain relief scores between groups were statistically significant, they were likely not of clinical significance.” (p. 480). Houweling et al., explained the reason for this was, “the extent of the differences in pain relief observed might be too small for patients to notice a clinically meaningful difference” (p. 480).
With respect to patient satisfaction Houweling et al., (2019), reported, “The findings of this study pertaining to patient satisfaction were in line with previous research comparing chiropractic care to medical care for back pain, which found that chiropractic patients are typically more satisfied with the services received than medical patients” (p. 481). Houweling et al., added, “The Mean total spinal, hip, and shoulder pain-related health care costs per patient during the 4-month study period were approximately 40% lower in patients initially consulting DCs compared with those initially consulting MDs. The reason for this difference was a lower use of health care services other than first-contact care in patients initially consulting DCs compared with those initially consulting MDs” (p. 481).
Thus, Houweling et al., (2019) concluded, “The findings of this study support first-contact care provided by DCs as an alternative to first-contact care provided by MDs for a select number of musculoskeletal conditions” (p. 481). The authors also noted, “In addition to potentially reducing health care costs, direct access to chiropractic care may ease the workload on MDs, particularly in areas with poor medical coverage and hence enabling them to focus on complex cases. The minority of patients with complex health problems initially consulting a chiropractic provider would be referred to, or comanaged with, a medical provider to provide optimal care” (p. 481).
In conclusion, health care cost has skyrocketed out of control with the prediction the US expenditures will reach 6 trillion by 2027. Considering neck and back pain expenditures in between 2012-2014 averaged $315 billion annually and total health care costs in 2017 were $3.5 trillion, this means approximately 10% of health care expenditures annually are for neck and back pain which is supported by the Peterson-Kaiser Health Tracker System report. Moreover, considering the estimated health costs are predicted to be $6 trillion by 2027, if the expenditure for neck and back pain remained on par at 10% that means the cost of neck and back pain in would increase to around $600 billion over that time frame.
Considering in the Houweling et al., that by using doctors of chiropractic as a first-line provider for spine, hip and shoulder pain, it demonstrated a 40% reduction in costs, that means in 2027, if DCs were first-line providers, it is estimated this could save the health care delivery system $240 BILLION DOLLARS in one year alone (just for neck and back pain). If one considers the prediction of 5.5% annual expenditure increase, that means the estimated total expenditure for neck and back pain between 2018-2027 would be $4.65 trillion dollars. If having DCs as a first-line provider were to save 40% in costs, that would translate into saving $1.86 TRILLION DOLLARS. If that was applied to the predicted 2027 neck and back pain expenditure, that number would represent a 32% savings in that year. Given our skyrocketing health care costs, that would represent a significant savings!
Further, if we consider from the study, there was a modestly higher pain relief and ever greater patient satisfaction reported, when you factor in the predicted PCP shortage, having the ability for DCs to serve as a first-line provider, not only can it help unburden the already overloaded PCPs, but doing so would have a significant financial impact in lowering health care expenditures. All things considered, it is time our decision makers take a serious look at improving access to Doctors of Chiropractic so they may serve as first-line providers for the management of all spine and even hip and shoulder related disorders.