Interventional pain management at crossroads: the perfect storm brewing for a new decade of challenges

Pain Physician. 2010 Mar-Apr;13(2):E111-40.


The health care industry in general and care of chronic pain in particular are described as recession-proof. However, a perfect storm with a confluence of many factors and events -none of which alone is particularly devastating - is brewing and may create a catastrophic force, even in a small specialty such as interventional pain management. Multiple challenges related to interventional pain management in the current decade will include individual and group physicians, office practices, ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs), and hospital outpatient departments (HOPD). Rising health care costs are discussed on a daily basis in the United States. The critics have claimed that health outcomes are the same as or worse than those in other countries, but others have presented the evidence that the United States has the best health care system. All agree it is essential to reduce costs. Numerous factors contribute to increasing health care costs. They include administrative costs, waste, abuse, and fraud. It has been claimed the U.S. health care system wastes up to $800 billion a year. Of this, fraud accounts for approximately $200 billion a year, involving fraudulent Medicare claims, kickbacks for referrals for unnecessary services, and other scams. Administrative inefficiency and redundant paperwork accounts for 18% of health care waste, whereas medical mistakes account for $50 billion to $100 billion in unnecessary spending each year, or 11% of the total. Further, American physicians spend nearly 8 hours per week on paperwork and employ 1.66 clerical workers per doctor, more than any other country. It has been illustrated that it takes $60,000 to $88,000 per physician per year, equal to one-third of a family practitioner's gross income, and $23 to $31 billion each year in total to interact with health insurance plans. The studies have illustrated that an average physician spends $68,274 per year communicating with insurance companies and performing other non-medical functions. For an office-based practice, the overall total in the United States is $38.7 billion, or $85,276 per physician. In the United States there are 2 types of physician payment systems: private health care and Medicare. Medicare has moved away from the Medicare Economic Index (MEI) and introduced the sustainable growth rate (SGR) formula which has led to cuts in physician payments on a yearly basis. In 2010 and beyond into the new decade, interventional pain management will see significant changes in how we practice medicine. There is focus on avoiding waste, abuse, fraud, and also cutting costs. Evidence-based medicine (EBM) and comparative effectiveness research (CER) have been introduced as cost-cutting and rationing measures, however, with biased approaches. This manuscript will analyze various issues related to interventional pain management with a critical analysis of physician payments, office facility payments, and ASC payments by various payor groups.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Analgesia / methods*
  • Analgesia / statistics & numerical data
  • Fee-for-Service Plans / statistics & numerical data
  • Fee-for-Service Plans / trends
  • Fraud / statistics & numerical data
  • Fraud / trends
  • Health Care Costs / statistics & numerical data*
  • Health Care Costs / trends
  • Humans
  • Insurance, Health / economics
  • Insurance, Health / statistics & numerical data
  • Insurance, Health / trends
  • Medicare / economics
  • Medicare / statistics & numerical data
  • Medicare / trends
  • Neurology / economics*
  • Neurology / trends
  • Pain Clinics / economics*
  • Pain Clinics / trends
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Reimbursement Mechanisms / statistics & numerical data*
  • Reimbursement Mechanisms / trends
  • United States