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



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) thatUnder 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”(



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(


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” (


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.




  1. “National Health Expenditure Fact Sheet” (2019, April 26). Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. Retrieved from
  2. Irene Papanicolas, Liana R. Woskie, Ashish K. Jha. (2018). Health Care Spending in the United States and Other High-Income Countries, Journal of the American Medical Association, 319(10), 1024-1039.
  3. Kern Singh, MD, Gunnar Andersson, MD, PhD and Sylvia I. Watkins-Castillo, PhD. (2019) United States Bone and Joint Initiative: The Burden of Musculoskeletal Diseases in the United States (BMUS), forthcoming. Rosemont, IL. Retrieved from
  4. Cox Cynthia. (2017, May 22). How much does the U.S. spend to treat different disease? Peterson-Kaiser Health Tracker System. Retrieved from
  5. Houweling, Braga, Hausheer, Vogelsang, Peterson and Humphreys. (2015). First-Contact Care with a Medical vs. Chiropractic Provider After Consultation with a Swell Telemedicine Provider: Comparison of Outcomes, Patient Satisfaction, and Health Care Costs in Spinal, Hip, and Shoulder Pain Patients. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 38(7), 477-483.

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Published in Neck Problems

Chiropractic Verified as

 Primary Spine Care Providers

By Mark Studin

William J. Owens

A report on the scientific literature 


Primary Spine care simply means being the first referral option for spine care in instances other than fracture, tumor or infection. Having a chiropractic degree is paramount and the first step in the process, but one must not forget that any doctoral training, no matter the specialty (i.e. medicine, dentistry, podiatry, etc.) is the start of a provider’s educational journey and what we do with that training is up to the doctor in clinical practice. Erwin, Korpela and Jones (2013) stated “The function of the PSCP (Primary Spine Care Provider) could easily be assumed by chiropractic, but this window of opportunity may be limited. If chiropractic does not seek to evolve, what role does chiropractic have left to perform.” (Pg. 289)


Although these authors agree that chiropractors in clinical practice can assume the role as PSCP’s in the healthcare system, we strongly disagree with the direction suggested by Erwin, Korpela and Jones. The solution is not to prescribe more drugs in an “already over-drugged society,” the solution is being able to manage the patient in a collaborative environment on a peer level being “expert” on common healthcare issues. The underlying tenant is that there is no drug for a mechanical problem, it is with that initial focus that allows chiropractic to assume a role that no other profession can accomplish.  True PSCP management includes being able to accurately diagnose/triage patients and the ability to use and understand MRI is a prime example. Herzog, Elgart, Flanders and Moley (2017) reported a 43.6% error rate of general radiologists inaccurately reporting the morphology of the intervertebral disc. This underscores that when a doctor of chiropractic relies on the MRI report without understanding how to interpret the image and clinically correlate the findings to the patient’s symptoms, there is close to a 50% error rate in rendering an accurate diagnosis, prognosis and treatment plan.  A PSCP must have a complete and independent diagnostic scope of practice in order to fill a useful and clinically significant role.


To use an example in a current and modern setting, a doctor of chiropractic in Cedar Park, Texas was granted a “brief 10-minutes” to meet with an orthopedic surgeon. During that short meeting the chiropractor, an 8-year graduate spoke solely and specifically of his MRI slice thickness protocols and his MRI interpretation training which is cross-credentialed in both chiropractic and medical academia. One hour later [the meeting continued well past the initial “10-minutes” suggested], the orthopedic surgeon said, “I respect chiropractic, but have very little respect for the level of training of chiropractors in our region.” This 8-year graduate walked out with 8 referrals instantly and now 1 year later, has been getting referrals weekly. That is very definition of Primary Spine Care, the orthopedic surgeon trusts the chiropractor’s ability to manage and diagnose patients and now is “off-loading” the non-surgical patients to someone that can effectively manage that case.  It is because of this specific advanced training that the chiropractor is successful.


In a second recent example, in Utah, a chiropractor decided that his post-doctoral training should be focused on spinal trauma care and triage, including more specifically, MRI Spine Interpretation, Spinal Trauma Pathology, Spinal Biomechanical Engineering and Stroke Evaluation. As a result, a hospital system that has over 900 auto accident cases monthly in 5 local hospitals reached out to him to manage their spine cases (all of them).  This was based purely on his curriculum vitae and the inherent credentials and knowledge base from his continued education training in the above courses. Since then, Brigham Young University’s Athletic Department and the PGA (Professional Golf Association) have both sought his services. Please don’t overlook the fact THEY ran after him to be their first option for spine; that is Primary Spine Care and credentials matter.



Thirdly, in Buffalo NY, 5 teaching hospitals refer exclusively to one chiropractor’s office and their emergency rooms refers close to 60 spine patients per month to him with that number growing steadily. This past week, the neurosurgical department just informed this doctor that their 23 neurosurgeons will be referring their non-surgical cases to this office and will be directing many of their referral sources to START with this doctor to screen for surgery and let him decide who to refer for surgical consultation. That is Primary Spine Care.



Although individual reporting does not make a trend in the profession, these are not isolated cases, and this is NOW THE TREND in chiropractic we are seeing nationally, there are similar stories in most states. None of the successes involve adding drugs as a tool of the chiropractic, however in every case becoming smarter in spine care was mandatory.  In all cases it is a properly trained doctor of chiropractic that is leading Primary Spine Care alongside medical specialty and primary care in a collaborative environment as peers, when clinically indicated. 



Most of the Primary Spine Care “equation” is verifying chiropractic care as the “best choice” for the “first referral”.  That is being achieved though peer-reviewed outcome based studies and involves all phases of care starting with initial pain management to corrective spine care and finally when required, health maintenance care for cases that need non-opioid and non-surgical long-term management. Historically and all too frequently in current medicine, either medical management or physical therapy is considered for mechanical spine issues as the first treatment of choice. Cleveland Clinic, one of the better-known centers of medical excellence currently posted the following regarding the treatment of back pain; “These patients may be best served through prompt access to care from physical therapists or nurse practitioners as entry-level providers. When pain persists beyond four to six weeks, the care path defines when referral to spine or pain specialists, spine surgeons or behavioral health providers is indicated.” (https://consultqd.clevelandclinic. org/2014/11/sticking-with-proven-practices-for-low-back-pain/) The Mayo Clinic Staff (2017) also reported: “Physical therapy is the cornerstone of back pain treatment.”


When considering the best option for Primary Spine Care, we should consider “what” type of provider renders the best outcomes in population based studies and has the autonomy to manage the case independent of primary care and medical specialty.   Based upon population based studies, both the Cleveland and Mayo clinics got it wrong as their opinions are not based upon contemporary literature and appear to be rooted in “age-old biases.”  Their suggested care paths are similar to prior care paths that perhaps have led to the long-term mismanagement of mechanical spine pain that has in part, contributed to the opioid crisis.  


Blanchette, Rivard, Dionne, Hogg-Johnson and Steenstra (2017) in a population based study of 5511 injured workers in Ontario Canada as reported by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, a governmental agency reported a comparison of outcomes for back pain among patients seen by three types of providers: medical physicians, chiropractors and physical therapists. The found “The type of first healthcare provider was a significant predictor of the duration of the first episode of compensation only during the first 5 months of compensation. When compared with medical doctors, chiropractors were associated with shorter durations of compensation and physiotherapists with longer ones. Physiotherapists were also associated with higher odds of a second episode of financial compensation.” (pg.392) and These differences raise concerns regarding the use of physiotherapists as gatekeepers for the worker’s compensation system.” (pg. 382)


Blanchette, Rivard, Dionne, Hogg-Johnson and Steenstra (2017) continued, “The cohort study of American workers with back pain conducted by Turner et al. found that the first healthcare provider was one of the main predictors of work disability after a year. In accordance with our findings, workers who first sought chiropractic care were less likely to be work-disabled after 1 year compared with workers who first sought other types of medical care… We did not retrieve any study that directly compared physiotherapy care with other types of first healthcare providers in the context of occupational back pain, probably because most workers’ compensation systems still require a referral for physiotherapy. However, a study comparing primary physiotherapy care with usual emergency department care concluded that physiotherapy care leads to a prolonged time before patients return to their usual activities.” (pg. 389)


Cifuentes, Willets and Wasiak (2011) stated that chiropractic care during the health maintenance care period resulted in: 

The study concluded that chiropractic care during the disability episode resulted in:

24% Decrease in disability duration of first episode compared to physical therapy

250% Decrease in disability duration of first episode compared to medical physician's care

5.9% Decrease in opioid (narcotic) use during maintenance care with physical therapy care

30.3% Decrease in opioid (narcotic) use during maintenance care with medical physician's care

32% Decrease in average weekly cost of medical expenses during disability episode compared to physical therapy care

21% Decrease in average weekly cost of medical expenses during disability episode compared to medical physician's care


Cifuentes et al. (2011) started by stating, “Given that chiropractors are proponents of health maintenance care...patients with work-related LBP [low back pain] who are treated by chiropractors would have a lower risk of recurrent disability because that specific approach would be used” (p. 396). The authors concluded by stating,“After controlling for demographic factors and multiple severity indicators, patients suffering nonspecific work-related LBP (low back pain) who received health services mostly or only from a chiropractor had a lower risk of recurrent disability than the risk of any other provider type(pg. 404). 

The above studies continue to verify chiropractic as a better “first option” for spine and that resolves the “what provider is best” question by using an Evidence Based approach.  The “who is best” within that subset is what type of chiropractor is better suited to lead in Primary Spine Care is evident. As an example, although every medical doctor is licensed to do open heart surgery not all are trained and credentialed. Would you want a psychiatrist performing the procedure? The answer should be “they are licensed, but not qualified through training.” The same holds true for contemporary chiropractic and every chiropractor has the same opportunity. We are all held to a “continuing education standard” and are all required to seek post-doctoral training to maintain our licenses. There are a significant number of courses, both live and through enduring materials (online) to enable every chiropractor on the planet to attain the level of education mandated by the “referral sources” to be considered Primary Spine Care Providers. 

Let’s not be Pollyannaish not to think that chiropractic can be successful in increasing utilization independent of the medical community and even the legal community for personal injury cases. As mentioned previously, the medical community DOES NOT CARE about your treatment approach, what they do care about is the “risk” of you missing a diagnosis.  They need to trust you based on your training, and the do NOT care about what technique you use.  What you do in your offices is up to you just like a pain management MD or a surgeon, remember, it’s how you triage and manage your patients that is the ultimate arbiter in having them consider you as the first option for spine care. Once you have responsibly secured the referral, based upon your clinical excellence, you get to independently decide the best course of care for your patient.  Then it is business as usual during the treatment phase of care because results were never, and are not an issue in chiropractic. 



  1. Erwin, W. M., Korpela, A. P., & Jones, R. C. (2013). Chiropractors as primary spine care providers: precedents and essential measures. The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, 57(4), 285.
  2. Herzog, R., Elgort, D. R., Flanders, A. E., & Moley, P. J. (2017). Variability in diagnostic error rates of 10 MRI centers performing lumbar spine MRI examinations on the same patient within a 3-week period. The Spine Journal, 17(4), 554-561.
  3. Cleveland Clinic. (2017). Sticking with proven practices for low back pain, Introducing: Cleveland Clinic’s Spine Care Path. Retrieved from 11/sticking-with-proven-practices-for-low-back-pain/
  4. Mayo Clinic Staff. (2017). Treatments and drugs. Diseases and Conditions, Back Pain, Retrieved from:
  5. Blanchette, M. A., Rivard, M., Dionne, C. E., Hogg-Johnson, S., & Steenstra, I. (2017). Association between the type of first healthcare provider and the duration of financial compensation for occupational back pain. Journal of occupational rehabilitation27(3), 382-392.
  6. Cifuentes, M., Willets, J., & Wasiak, R. (2011). Health maintenance care in work-related low back pain and its association with disability recurrence. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine53(4), 396-404.

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Published in Neck Problems