One of five adults in Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, the Dakotas and other North Central states say they’ve used chiropractic treatment — twice the rate of the national average, according to a 2014 National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) report. We are fortunate to have well-informed consumers in our region who understand that chiropractic not only delivers high-quality, affordable care, but also results in highly satisfied patients.
Still, the positive NCHS finding within the study on regional utilization of complementary medicine isn’t yet cause for celebration. Research suggests that barriers are still keeping consumers from availing themselves of safe, affordable and effective chiropractic. If you’re a health insurance payer or corporate employer who wants to tame health care costs and get employees back to work more quickly, it’s worth paying close attention to the insights the NCHS drew from interviews with some 35,000 U.S. consumers.
The news from the NCHS survey, stating that 80 percent of consumers surveyed haven’t yet used chiropractic, means we have a great opportunity to step up educational efforts and increase utilization, while contributing to driving down costs. For example, there’s still no pattern to whether patients reporting back pain are referred to emergency care, primary care, or to chiropractic treatment. And, there’s a significant segment of our population that does not know chiropractic services are a covered benefit under many health insurance plans. In fact, ChiroCare’s own 2013 survey found that 65 percent of Minnesotans surveyed did not know if their health insurance plan covered chiropractic services, even though most Minnesota health plans do.
Additionally, employers and health payers should be addressing the fact that many employees with lower back pain either go immediately to an emergency room for the discomfort, or wait weeks to get an appointment at primary care when they could have been treated quickly and effectively by a chiropractor.
The results of this “Regional Variation in Use of Complementary Health Approaches” study are in line with ChiroCare’s own research into how providers, health payers, and employers are working to make chiropractic care more widely available in our region.
The research that’s needed next — from our ChiroCare Spinal Centers of Excellence and other health care thought-leaders — will be new outcomes-based research that clears away the remaining barriers to integrating primary and chiropractic care. We need data that changes the flow diagram of typical treatment for lower back pain, so that consumers, health insurers, and employers have a deeper understanding of when primary care is warranted vs. the value of chiropractic treatment in getting employees back to work.
I’d like to hear from you about what kind of research data you’d like to see the profession develop.
For a copy of the NCHS Data Brief summarizing the April 2014 National Health Interview Survey, download a pdf from this link.