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Cost-Effectiveness of Medical and Chiropractic Care for Acute and Chronic Low Back Pain

      Objectives

      To identify relative provider costs, clinical outcomes, and patient satisfaction for the treatment of low back pain (LBP).

      Methods

      This was a practice-based, nonrandomized, comparative study of patients self-referring to 60 doctors of chiropractic and 111 medical doctors in 51 chiropractic and 14 general practice community clinics over a 2-year period. Patients were included if they were at least 18 years old, ambulatory, and had low back pain of mechanical origin (n = 2780). Outcomes were (standardized) office costs, office costs plus referral costs for office-based care and advanced imaging, pain, functional disability, patient satisfaction, physical health, and mental health evaluated at 3 and 12 months after the start of care. Multiple regression analysis was used to correct for baseline differences between provider types.

      Results

      Chiropractic office costs were higher for both acute and chronic patients (P < .01). When referrals were included, there were no significant differences in either group between provider types (P > .20). Acute and chronic chiropractic patients experienced better outcomes in pain, functional disability, and patient satisfaction (P < .01); clinically important differences in pain and disability improvement were found for chronic patients only.

      Conclusions

      Chiropractic care appeared relatively cost-effective for the treatment of chronic LBP. Chiropractic and medical care performed comparably for acute patients. Practice-based clinical outcomes were consistent with systematic reviews of spinal manipulation efficacy: manipulation-based therapy is at least as good as and, in some cases, better than other therapeusis. This evidence can guide physicians, payers, and policy makers in evaluating chiropractic as a treatment option for low back pain.

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