Lets face it: healthcare is expensive. Most of us pay a significant amount of money every month towards insurance premiums and it isn’t getting any cheaper. You are also not alone in your healthcare poverty. According to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services in 2014, as a country, we spent 3.0 trillion dollars, or $9,523 per person. That’s almost 20% of our gross domestic product.
The obvious question is how can we, as a country, be healthier while spending less money on healthcare? The answer to that question is much more complex and involved than this simple blog post can provide, but it boils down to being more informed about our healthcare decisions and taking a more active role in our personal healthcare. One example of this comes from my every day work as a Physical Therapist with patients who have low back pain (LBP).
LBP is one of the most common health conditions encountered throughout our country. It is the second most common reason people go to see their doctor and it is reported that 80% of the world experience LBP at some point in their life. Also, it is estimated that as a country we spend over $100 billion per year on the treatment of LBP. Considering how common and expensive this is for our country, it represents one condition where each of us could save a considerable amount of our healthcare cash. This point is illustrated best by this published article. You don’t have to go to hassle of searching out, paying for, downloading, and reading the article. I will summarize it for you, because that’s just the kind of guy I am!
The researchers gathered insurance claims data from over 32,000 patients who went so see their Primary Care Physician (PCP) with chief complaint of LBP. They looked at 1) Was the patient referred to Physical Therapy (PT), 2) how long after their initial contact with the PCP were they referred, and 3) downstream healthcare costs and utilization over the next 18 months (after initial PCP visit). What they found should have a profound impact on what you decide to do next time you mix it up with the 30 something year olds at your next #turkeybowl game.
PT referral occurred within 90 days of initial PCP contact in only 7% of the patients and only ½ of these patients went to PT in less than 14 days. Those patients who went to PT in less than 14 days had decreased risk of advanced imaging, surgery, injection, and opioid medication use compared to those who went to PT later. What does all that mean? Total cost for an episode of LBP were $2,736.23 LESS for patients who received PT in less than 14 days compared to those who received it in greater than 14 days. That’s a fair amount of cash that you could use on overpriced merchandise for your kids during your next family vacation to Disneyland.
Another example of healthcare cost savings related to LBP comes from this study. Here, the researchers, again using insurance claims data, compared the utilization and charges for people who went to see their PCP for LBP and received either 1) PT referral or 2) an order for an MRI of their lower back. The researchers then tracked all insurance claims and electronic medical record data for these patients over the next year. The bottom line finding in their research was those patients who were referred for an MRI were associated with HIGHER healthcare costs and utilization than those referred for PT. How much more? An average of $4,793. Now that would not only cover the overpriced merchandise at Disneyland but would leave you with some extra for Harry Potter World as well.
My point in sharing all of this with you is to help you understand that next time you have an episode of LBP, you have options. You can opt to follow suit with the majority of Americans and spend unnecessary amounts of money to get their LBP under control, or you can opt to save that money to see the smile on your child’s face as they meet Mickey Mouse for the first time. You can opt to get better quicker. You can #opt4pt.
For more information check out this article from the Washington Post.