Analysis of provider specialties in the treatment of patients with clinically diagnosed back and joint problems

Fernando A. Wilson, John C. Licciardone, Cathleen M. Kearns, Mathias Akuoko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Rationale, aims and objectives Although several studies have compared patient outcomes by provider specialty in the treatment of back and joint pain, little is known about the cost-effectiveness of improving patient outcomes across specialties. This study uses a large-scale, nationally representative database to evaluate the cost-effectiveness of being treated by specific provider specialists for back and joint pain in the United States. Method The 2002-2012 Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys were used to examine patients diagnosed with back and/or joint problems seeking treatment from doctors (internal medicine, family/general, osteopathic medicine, orthopaedics, rheumatology, neurology) or other providers (chiropractor, physical therapist, acupuncturist, massage therapist). A total of 16 546 respondents aged 18 to 85 and clinically diagnosed with back/joint pain were examined. Self-reported measures of physical and mental health and general quality of life (measured by the EuroQol-5D) were compared with average total costs of treatment across medical providers. Results Total annual treatment costs per person ranged from $397 for family/general doctors to $1205 for rheumatologists. Cost-effectiveness analysis suggests that osteopathic, family/general, internal medicine doctors and chiropractors and massage therapists were more cost-effective than other specialties in improving physical function to back pain patients. For mental health measures, family/general and orthopaedic doctors and physical therapists were more cost-effective compared with other specialties. Similar to results on physical function, family/general, osteopathic and internal medicine doctors dominated other specialties. However, only massage therapy was cost-effective among non-doctor providers in improving quality of life measures. Conclusions Patients seeking care for back and joint-related health problems face a wide range of treatments, costs and outcomes depending on which specialist provider they see. This study provides important insight on the relationship between health care costs and patients' perceived physical and mental health status from receiving treatment for diagnosed back/joint problems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)952-957
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2015


  • cost-effectiveness
  • health care providers
  • low back pain
  • quality of life


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