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July 6, 2021

Measuring the Impact of Low Back Pain in Employee Benefits Data

Artemis Health

The COVID-19 pandemic will leave lasting impacts on the world of work. From new mental health challenges to “long COVID”, many employers are taking stock of how employee health and well-being has changed in the last year. As many employees shifted to working from home, another health consideration is on the rise: musculoskeletal conditions like back pain, neck pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome. 

A recent article from Risk and Insurance details the issue: 

“Among the most common ailments are those related to excessive use of computer screens and bad posture. This can be easily remediated with the right equipment and small adjustments to how the operative is positioned. ‘We are seeing a higher incidence of discomfort associated with static laptop use,’ said Thomas Hilgen, workforce vitality practice leader, integrated casualty consulting at Willis Towers Watson.”

One common condition resulting from poor ergonomics is low back pain, and patients often see multiple doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors, and surgeons before they find relief. Low back pain can become a chronic condition that patients deal with for years, and it can also lead to disability claims. 

One of our clients wanted to look at the impact low back pain was having on their population, and they wanted to see how members with this condition compared to those without. We used the Cohorts app in the Artemis Platform to conduct this analysis. 

Low Back Pain - Healthcare Analytics Findings 

First step: we built a “cohort” (a group of members) that we flagged as those who had low back pain related claims. We found a cohort of 1,456 members with this condition based on Rx and medical claims. We also found out what this meant for the employer’s claims spending: 

Charts showing the percentage costs of members with low back pain


We found that those with low back pain account for 21% of total plan costs in the analysis period (1 year in this case). 

Next, we compared those in our low back pain cohort against patients who were outside of the cohort (i.e., those who did not have any claims for low back pain in the analysis period). We found that the members with this condition were incurring roughly 2x the costs of members outside the cohort. 


Average costs for members with and without low back pain.

We also wanted to see what types of treatments these members are seeking. Opioids are commonly prescribed for low back pain relief, though their effectiveness is in doubt for many medical professionals. Indeed, a recent study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that patients cannot tell the difference between the pain relief offered by opioids vs. a placebo. 

“Of the 20 [clinical] trials, 17 compared [the pain relief from] opioids with a placebo, and three compared opioids with each other.” 

Of our LBP cohort, we found 417 had been prescribed opioids. That’s nearly 30%.

Number of members with opioid prescriptions for low back pain.

 

The Artemis Platform makes it easy to drill down to the individual claim level to see which drugs are being prescribed. You can see in this graph that 360 of our cohort of 417 are taking either Oxycodone-Acetaminophen or Hydrocodone-Acetaminophen.

Table with which type of opioids members are being prescribed.


Finally, we looked across a few different benefits feeds to get a better sense for how these members stack up against the wider employee population. While their Rx costs and risk scores were not higher than other members, we did find one metric where the LBP members were significantly higher than the norm—absence days. 

Bar chart showing how many days of work members with low back pain are missing.


Essentially, workers experiencing low back pain are 6 times more likely to miss work. 

Low Back Pain - Potential Actions Employers Can Take 

Employers who find these insights in their data have a number of avenues to take action. For low back pain, here are a few they might consider: 

  • Adjusting their formulary to require doctor pre-authorization on opioid refills after a certain treatment period 
  • Adding physical therapy services at their on-site clinics 
  • Communicating with members at risk for opioids abuse through the carrier to offer substance abuse benefits or EAP benefits 
  • Encouraging participation in wellness programs or exercise challenges

For our clients, it’s not enough to simply find this information in their benefits data—they want to take action to help their members get the most from their benefit programs. That’s the power of the Artemis solution. 


Want to see it in action? Watch our 2-minute demo to learn more about Artemis’ data analytics solution.

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