Study design: Cross-sectional analysis.
Objectives: To describe the early health care utilization for occupational back pain. To identify factors associated with health care seeking and provider choice among persons with occupational back pain.
Summary of background data: Back pain is the most prevalent work-related injury, yet little is known about patterns of care for occupational back pain.
Materials and methods: The sample includes 1104 workers with incident episodes of low back pain. Outcomes measures include whether or not workers received care and the types of providers seen. Predictors of outcomes include demographics, injury severity, history of back pain, occupation, and employer.
Results: Eight percent of workers did not receive care in the first 4 to 16 weeks after filing a workers' compensation claim. Injury severity, gender, occupation, and employer were significant predictors of the decision to seek care. Almost 90% of workers who received care were treated by medical physicians, often in combination with physical therapists or chiropractors. Age, occupation, injury severity, and whether the employer or worker chose the initial health care provider were associated with the choice of provider. Employers selected providers for 78% of injured workers who received care. Medical physicians were the providers most often chosen by both employers and workers, but workers were more likely than employers to select chiropractors.
Conclusions: A small but significant number of injured workers do not seek care for their back pain. Medical physicians treat all but a small fraction of the workers who receive care. The decision to seek care and the choice of providers is associated with injury severity, occupation, and employer actions.