New Large Study: Chiropractic Less Costly Than Medical Care
In the largest study of its kind, a recent review of medical claims from 669,320 members holding insurance with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee found 85,402 diagnosed with disc or back pain disorders by a doctor of osteopathy, chiropractic, medicine, or an emergency room physician between 2004 and 2006.
Richard L. Liliedahl, M.D. and co-workers, writing in the current issue of the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, wrote that despite open access to all providers, costs paid by BCBS for chiropractic services were almost 40% less than costs paid by the insurer for medical care. Further, even after risk adjusting (e.g., comparing only medical versus chiropractic patients with disc problems), patients attended by a doctor of chiropractic experienced almost 20% less expense when compared with patients seen by a medical doctor.
Studies over the past forty years reveal that patients are more satisfied with chiropractic than medical care for back pain treatment, and additional studies show that patients experience less disability when randomized to chiropractic versus physical therapy. The new study indicates that insurance companies experience less costs when even serious disc related back problems are treated by doctors of chiropractic instead of medical doctors. Scientists determined that in this pool of insured patients, BCBS of Tennessee saved $2.3 million per year by allowing patients equal coverage and open access to chiropractic care.
Taken together with recent trials of short and long term outcomes, the research suggests that chiropractic care for even serious back pain is both more effective and less costly to members and their insurance companies, especially when patients are allowed open access to chiropractors.
Despite the findings and recent research on the relative safety of chiropractic care, studies also reveal that while referral of patients by medical doctors to chiropractors is slowly increasing, doctors of chiropractic still make significantly more referrals to physicians. In contrast, most chiropractic patients continue to be self referred, which is why access to and equal insurance coverage of chiropractic is an important issue for patients with back problems.
Rob Leach, DC, MS, FICC, CHES
For the November/December 2010 research demonstrating lower costs for back pain treatment in BCBS of Tennessee members: http://www.jmptonline.org/article/S0161-4754%2810%2900216-2/abstract
For a review of studies that document increased patient satisfaction with chiropractic care: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16523145
To read about current evidence of less back disability after patients with chronic back pain at a hospital received chiropractic instead of pain management: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18564952
For a study that shows LBP patients going to an orthopedic department in a hospital experience two thirds less sick leave than patients receiving conventional treatment: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17320735
While medical referrals to chiropractors have increased somewhat, chiropractors are consistently more likely to refer and provide patient information to medical doctors: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17873666