The association of comorbidities, utilization and costs for patients identified with low back pain

Debra P Ritzwoller, Laurie Crounse, Susan Shetterly, Dale Rublee
BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders 2006, 7: 72

BACKGROUND: Existing studies have examined the high prevalence of LBP along with the high treatment costs of patients with low back pain (LBP). Various factors have been shown to be correlated or predictive of chronic or episodic LBP including the characteristics of the initial episode, pain, comorbid conditions, psychosocial issues, and opiate use. This study replicates and extends earlier studies by examining the association of patient characteristics including baseline comorbidities with patterns of healthcare service use and cost.

METHODS: This is a retrospective analysis of measures of comorbidities, healthcare use, and cost for patients identified with LBP, stratified by the number of LBP episodes. Administrative data associated with outpatient and hospital based care for the years 1996 through 2001, were used to identify adult patients with LBP. LBP patients continuously enrolled for 12 months prior and 24 months after their initial LBP event were included in the study. A LBP episode was identified as the number of 30-day periods where a patient had one or more healthcare events with a diagnosis consistent with LBP. Chi-square and multivariate regression analyses were employed to estimate the variation in utilization and costs.

RESULTS: Of 16,567 patients enrolled, 67% were identified with only one LBP episode and 4.5% had > or =6. The prevalence of comorbidities, analgesic use, and healthcare service use, varied by the number of back pain episodes. Diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, anxiety, psychotic illness, depression, use of opiates and NSAIDs were associated with significant incremental increases in costs (P < .003).

CONCLUSION: Physical and mental health co-morbidities and measures of analgesic use were associated with chronicity, healthcare utilization and costs. Given the association of comorbidities and cost for patients with LBP, management approaches that are effective across chronic illnesses may prove to be beneficial for high cost patients identified with LBP.

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