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J Neurosurg Spine. 2014 Aug;21(2):143-9. doi: 10.3171/2014.3.SPINE1320. Epub 2014 May 2.

Two-year comprehensive medical management of degenerative lumbar spine disease (lumbar spondylolisthesis, stenosis, or disc herniation): a value analysis of cost, pain, disability, and quality of life: clinical article.

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Department of Neurosurgery, Vanderbilt University Medical Center; and Vanderbilt University Spinal Column Surgical Quality and Outcomes Research Laboratory, Nashville, Tennessee.



Current health care reform calls for a reduction of procedures and treatments that are less effective, more costly, and of little value (high cost/low quality). The authors assessed the 2-year cost and effectiveness of comprehensive medical management for lumbar spondylolisthesis, stenosis, and herniation by utilizing a prospective single-center multidisciplinary spine center registry in a real-world practice setting.


Analysis was performed on a prospective longitudinal quality of life spine registry. Patients with lumbar spondylolisthesis (n = 50), stenosis (n = 50), and disc herniation (n = 50) who had symptoms persisting after 6 weeks of medical management and who were eligible for surgical treatment were entered into a prospective registry after deciding on nonsurgical treatment. In all cases, comprehensive medical management included spinal steroid injections, physical therapy, muscle relaxants, antiinflammatory medication, and narcotic oral agents. Two-year patient-reported outcomes, back-related medical resource utilization, and occupational work-day losses were prospectively collected and used to calculate Medicare fee-based direct and indirect costs from the payer and societal perspectives. The maximum health gain associated with medical management was defined as the improvement in pain, disability, and quality of life experienced after 2 years of medical treatment or at the time a patient decided to cross over to surgery.


The maximum health gain in back pain, leg pain, disability, quality of life, depression, and general health state did not achieve statistical significance by 2 years of medical management, except for pain and disability in patients with disc herniation and back pain in patients with lumbar stenosis. Eighteen patients (36%) with spondylolisthesis, 11 (22%) with stenosis, and 17 (34%) with disc herniation eventually required surgical management due to lack of improvement. The 2-year improvement did not achieve a minimum clinically important difference in any outcome measure. The mean 2-year total cost (direct plus indirect) of medical management was $6606 for spondylolisthesis, $7747 for stenosis, and $7097 for herniation.


In an institution-wide, prospective, longitudinal quality of life registry that measures cost and effectiveness of all spine care provided, comprehensive medical management did not result in sustained improvement in pain, disability, or quality of life for patients with surgically eligible degenerative lumbar spondylolisthesis, stenosis, or disc herniation. From both the societal and payer perspective, continued medical management of patients with these lumbar pathologies in whom 6 weeks of conservative therapy failed was of minimal value given its lack of health utility and effectiveness and its health care costs. The findings from this real-world practice setting may more accurately reflect the true value and effectiveness of nonoperative care in surgically eligible patient populations.


EQ-5D = EuroQol-5D; MCS = mental component summary; NRS-BP = numeric rating scale for low-back pain; NRS-LP = NRS for leg pain; ODI = Oswestry Disability Index; PCS = physical component summary; QALY = quality-adjusted life-year; RCT = randomized controlled trial; SF-12 = Short Form 12-item Health Survey; lumbar spondylolisthesis; lumbar spondylosis; lumbar stenosis; medical management

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