Low back pain in primary care: costs of care and prediction of future health care utilization

Spine (Phila Pa 1976). 2010 Aug 15;35(18):1714-20. doi: 10.1097/brs.0b013e3181cd656f.


Study design: Cost of illness study alongside a randomized controlled trial.

Objective: To describe the costs of care for patients with low back pain (1) and to identify patient characteristics as predictors for high health care cost during a 1-year follow-up (2).

Summary of background data: Low back pain (LBP) is one of the leading causes of high health care costs in industrialized countries (Life time prevalence, 70%). A lot of research has been done to improve primary health care and patients' prognosis. However, the cost of health care does not necessarily follow changes in patient outcomes.

Methods: General practitioners (n = 126) recruited 1378 patients consulting for LBP. Sociodemographic data, pain characteristics, and LBP-related cost data were collected by interview at baseline and after 6 and 12 months. Costs were evaluated from the societal perspective. Predictors of high cost during the subsequent year were studied using logistic regression analysis.

Results: Mean direct and indirect costs for LBP care are about twice as high for patients with chronic LBP compared to acutely ill patients. Indirect costs account for more than 52% to 54% of total costs. About 25% of direct costs refer to therapeutic procedures and hospital or rehabilitational care. Patients with high disability and limitations in daily living show a 2- to 5-fold change for subsequent high health care costs. Depression seems to be highly relevant for direct health care utilization.

Conclusion: Interventions designed to reduce high health care costs for LBP should focus on patients with severe LBP and depressive comorbidity. Our results add to the economic understanding of LBP care and may give guidance for future actions on health care improvement and cost reduction.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chronic Disease
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Delivery of Health Care / economics*
  • Delivery of Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Health Care Costs* / trends
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / economics*
  • Low Back Pain / psychology
  • Low Back Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care / methods
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Primary Health Care / economics*
  • Primary Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Primary Health Care / trends
  • Young Adult