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The United States spends more on health care than any other country, with costs approaching 18% of the gross domestic product (GDP).

Overtreatment and low-value care cost the U.S. healthcare system between $75.7 and $101.2 billion annually. Despite the associated high cost, unnecessary or ineffective care appear to be on the rise.

A search of peer-reviewed and “gray” literature from January 2012 to May 2019 focused on the 6 waste domains previously identified by the Institute of Medicine and Berwick and Hackbarth: failure of care delivery.

Computations yielded the following estimated ranges of total annual cost of waste: failure of care delivery, $102.4 billion to $165.7 billion; failure of care coordination, $27.2 billion to $78.2 billion; overtreatment or low-value care, $75.7 billion to $101.2 billion; pricing failure, $230.7 billion to $240.5 billion; fraud and abuse, $58.5 billion to $83.9 billion; and administrative complexity, $265.6 billion.

One strategy to promote quality, value-based care is applying evidence-based medicine (EBM) to help guide treatment decisions. EBM integrates medical research with clinical expertise and patient values to support decision making based on the best available evidence.

How well does that work? Researchers attempted to answer that question in a study recently published in the journal PLOS, “Guideline adherence and lost workdays for acute low back pain in the California workers’ compensation system.

In the U.S., state workers’ compensation (WC) systems have developed or adopted treatment guidelines to promote evidence-based care for occupational injuries. The most common occupational injury is back strain, and occupational stressors are thought to contribute to low back pain (LBP). The point of this new study was to quantify the influence of adherence to guideline-recommended interventions in the first week of treatment for an initial low back pain (LBP) injury on lost workdays.

In a retrospective cohort of California’s workers’ compensation claims data from May 2009 to May 2018, 41 diagnostic and treatment interventions were abstracted from the medical claims for workers with acute LBP injuries and compared with guideline recommendations. Lost workdays within 1-year post-injury were compared by guideline adherence. 59,656 workers met the study inclusion criteria.

The reviewers concluded that when workers received guideline-recommended interventions, they typically returned to work in fewer days. The majority of workers received at least one non-recommended intervention, demonstrating the need for adherence to guideline recommendations. Fewer lost workdays and improved quality care are outcomes that strongly benefit injured workers.

With that being said, the study disclosed in its Conflict of Interest Statement that authors Gaspar and Wizner are employed by MDGuidelines, which is the sole proprietor of ACOEM guidelines. Hegmann is Editor-in-Chief of the ACOEM guidelines.