OBJECTIVE: To compare health insurance payments and patient outcomes for recurrent episodes of care for nine common lumbar and low-back conditions initiated with chiropractic treatment vs. episodes initiated with medical treatment.
DATA AND METHODS: Retrospective analysis of episodes constructed using 208 ICD-9-CM codes from 2 yr of insurance claims data for a large population of beneficiaries in the private fee-for-service sector. A total of 7077 patients were represented within 9314 episodes of care, of which 8018 episodes were initiated by clearly identified chiropractic or medical physicians. There were 1215 patients with initial physician or chiropractic-initiated episodes who had recurrent episodes. Outcome measures included total insurance payments, total outpatient payments, lengths of initial and recurrent episodes, consistent use of initiating providers for recurrent episodes and time lapsed between episodes.
RESULTS: Total insurance payments within and across episodes were substantially greater for medically initiated episodes. Analysis of recurrent episodes as measures of patient outcomes indicated that chiropractic providers retain more patients for subsequent episodes, but that there is no significant difference in lapse time between episodes for chiropractic vs. medical providers. Chiropractic and medical patients were comparable on measures of severity; however, the chiropractic cohort included a greater proportion of chronic cases.
CONCLUSION: Patients who "cross over" between providers for multiple episodes are more likely to return to chiropractic providers, which suggests that chronic, recurrent low-back cases may gravitate to chiropractic care over time. The findings from this and related studies point out the importance of appropriately operationalizing cost and outcome variables in analyses of care for conditions such as chronic and/or recurrent low-back pain.
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