Cost-Effectiveness of a Team-Based Integrative Medicine Approach to the Treatment of Back Pain

J Altern Complement Med. 2019 Mar;25(S1):S138-S146. doi: 10.1089/acm.2018.0503.


Objectives: To report the results of health economic analyses comparing two treatment approaches for chronic low back pain (CLBP).

Design: Observational prospective cohort study comparing effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of CLBP care provided at an integrative care clinic with that provided in other clinics within the same hospital. CLBP-related medical utilization, function, quality of life, and days of work incapacity were self-reported at baseline, 3, 6, and 12 months.

Settings/location: Osher Clinical Center (OCC) based at a tertiary academic hospital (Brigham and Women's Hospital [BWH]) and other clinics at BWH.

Subjects: CLBP patients seeking care at OCC or non-OCC BWH clinics.

Interventions: Integrative or conventional care for CLBP as prescribed by the treating clinician(s).

Outcome measures: Quality-adjusted life years (QALYs) were estimated per treatment approach based on the SF-12. Cost per QALY gained was evaluated using an incremental cost-effectiveness ratio (ICER). ICERs based on CLBP-specific effectiveness measures (Roland Disability Questionnaire [RDQ] and bothersomeness of pain [BOP]) were exploratory outcomes.

Results: Total adjusted annual CLBP-related costs per patient were greater in the OCC versus non-OCC group ($11,526.73 vs. $6,810.63). Between group differences in QALYs were small and ICER estimate of cost per QALY gained was high ($436,676). However, unadjusted mean direct costs per patient decreased over time in the OCC group. Savings in direct costs of $391 (95% confidence interval: -1,078 to 1,861) were observed in the OCC group for the 6- to 12-month period, driven primarily by reduced medication usage. ICERs based on adjusted RDQ and BOP group differences showed cost of $2,073 and $4,203 for a one-point reduction per respective scale.

Conclusions: When adjusted for baseline differences, self-reported costs were higher in the OCC group with only small effects on QALYs. However, trends toward decreased direct expenditures and medication usage over time warrant further investigation. Future studies evaluating potential benefits of integrative care models for the management of CLBP should employ randomized designs, longer observational periods, and explore multiple metrics of cost-effectiveness.

Keywords: chronic low back pain; cost-effectiveness; integrative medicine; interdisciplinary care.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Back Pain / economics*
  • Back Pain / epidemiology
  • Back Pain / therapy*
  • Chronic Pain / economics*
  • Chronic Pain / epidemiology
  • Chronic Pain / therapy*
  • Complementary Therapies / economics*
  • Complementary Therapies / statistics & numerical data
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Integrative Medicine*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years
  • Treatment Outcome