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Spine Medical Expenses Going Up, Health Outcomes Aren't

Expenditures for back and neck problems rose 65 percent between 1997 and 2005

TUESDAY, Feb. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Although medical expenditures for back and neck problems rose substantially from 1997 to 2005, no improvements in self-assessed health status, functional disability or work limitations were seen among people with spine problems, according to research published in the Feb. 13 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Brook I. Martin, of the University of Washington in Seattle, and colleagues analyzed data from adult respondents in the nationally representative Medical Expenditure Panel Survey from 1997 to 2005.

Health care expenditures for spine problems, adjusted for age, sex and inflation, rose 65 percent during these years, despite a modest increase in numbers of adults with spine problems. This increase outpaced overall health expenditures. Self-reported measures of mental health, work limitations, physical limitations and social limitations also worsened during this period. Expenditures for outpatient visits made up the largest proportion of total cost, but medications accounted for the largest relative increase among expenditures.

"These data suggest that spine problems are expensive, due both to large numbers of affected persons and to high costs per person. We did not observe improvements in health outcomes commensurate with the increasing costs over time. Spine problems may offer opportunities to reduce expenditures without associated worsening of clinical outcomes," the authors conclude.

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