Prognosis for people with back pain under a No-fault 24-hour-cover compensation scheme

H K McNaughton, A Sims, W J Taylor
Spine 2000 May 15, 25 (10): 1254-8

STUDY DESIGN: A retrospective descriptive casenote review of consecutive back pain claimants assessing claim outcome at 12 months from onset.

OBJECTIVE: To assess prognosis for back pain claimants in a no-fault 24-hour-cover accident compensation system.

BACKGROUND: New Zealand has a unique accident compensation system that may provide incentives for health professionals to classify people with backache as having a back injury and incentives for back pain claimants to continue claims longer than would be the case in other compensation systems.

METHODS: One hundred consecutive back pain claimants were identified from a single office of New Zealand's sole accident compensation insurer (Accident Rehabilitation and Compensation Insurance Corporation; ACC), who were still receiving compensation payments 4 weeks after the initial date of the claim. The study end point was case closure in the subsequent 12 months. Case closure rate was analyzed in relation to several potential prognostic variables.

RESULTS: Of the 100 cases identified in which the claimant was receiving compensation 4 weeks from the initial date of the claim, 43 cases were not closed by 6 months, and 30 cases were not closed at 12 months. The variable most strongly associated with case nonclosure was whether the claimant was receiving earnings-related compensation (equal to 80% of previous income), with 41% of this group still receiving compensation at 12 months versus 16% of the group not receiving earnings-related compensation (chi2 = 8.55, P = 0.003). These results compare unfavorably with those from previous published studies from The Netherlands and Jersey in the United Kingdom.

CONCLUSION: New Zealand's unique accident compensation environment may discourage return to work for people with back pain. New Zealand legislators should assess the impact of the ACC scheme on people with back pain, particularly in light of the recent recommendations of the International Association for the Study of Pain Task Force on Back Pain in the Workplace, that compensation cover for workers with back pain be limited to 6 weeks.

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