But have these expenditures resulted in any actual improvements for the patient?
The authors sought to answer this question using data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, which sampled individuals around the nation aged 17 and older from 1997 to 2005.
In 1997, 23,045 individuals were sampled, including 3,139 who reported spine problems. At this time, medical costs for those with spine problems was $4,695 compared with just $2,731 for those without spine problems.
In 2005, the survey included 22,258 respondents, including 3,187 with self-reported spine problems. Medical expenditures for those with spine problems was now $6,096 versus $3,516 for those without back and neck problems.
During that period, expenditures increased 65 percent from 1997 to 2005 for those with spine problems, which was more than for overall health expenditures during the same time period. There was only a small increase in the estimated number of U.S. adults with spine problems.
The estimated proportion of people with self-reported physical disabilities resulting from spine problems also increased, from 20.7 percent to 24.7 percent.
Most of the cost difference came from outpatient and inpatient services, with a smaller proportion accounted for by prescription medicines. However, the percentage of expenditures related to prescription medications went up more rapidly than expenses for other services.
"That includes a 423 percent increase in expenditures related to narcotic analgesics over that time," Martin said.
In addition, "there's been a steady stream of new devices and surgical techniques and imaging methods being used over time," he pointed out. "There's also been a moderate increase in people with back problems."
The annual expenditures for spine problems are comparable to the amount spent annually on arthritis, diabetes and cancer. All of thos
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