Cost-Effectiveness Data Regarding Spinal Cord Stimulation for Low Back Pain

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Abstract

Study Design.

Review of published literature pertaining to spinal cord stimulation (SCS) cost data analysis.

Objective.

To acquire, organize, and succinctly summarize the available literature regarding the costs associated with, and the cost-effectiveness of, SCS.

Summary of Background Data.

Chronic back and limb pain is a pervasive complaint in modern society, with estimated annual costs of medical care greater than $100 billion. The traditional standard medical management with or without intermittent surgical decompression/fusion has been plagued by high costs and inconsistent results, leading to poor patient satisfaction and functional outcome, and questions from policy makers regarding use of limited healthcare resources. Neuromodulation techniques, including SCS have recently become more common in the treatment of chronic back/leg pain, with clinical studies showing a high degree of efficacy in alleviating otherwise intractable pain. Given the relatively high upfront costs associated with the hardware and implantation, policy makers have, however, questioned their use in the framework of cost-containment and resource utilization. We reviewed the available literature summarizing cost data of SCS in chronic back and limb pain, as an understanding of these data will be vital to justify continued payment for this expensive, but often very effective, treatment modality.

Methods.

We performed a PubMed literature search utilizing the following terms: “spinal cord stimulation,” “SCS,” “financial,” “cost,” “cost-effectiveness,” and “cost-utility.” All studies published in English and containing complete or partial cost evaluations of SCS for chronic back and limb pain were included.

Results.

The search revealed 21 studies that evaluated cost data, with or without outcomes analysis and cost-utility analysis, for patients with chronic back and limb pain. The overwhelming majority of data presented shows that SCS is not only an effective treatment option for these patients, but also represents cost savings and efficient use of healthcare resources relative to current standards of care. Although not all studies performed cost-utility analyses, those that did tended to show SCS falling well within accepted thresholds of “willingness-to-pay” on the part of third-party payers. That being said, the articles included in this review were almost all small, retrospective, single-institution studies. In addition, many of them relied on modeling for their analyses, and published literature values for cost and/or outcomes data rather than prospectively collected patient data. Although the data presented in this review are encouraging, it should serve as a foundation for a thorough, prospective, cost-utility analysis of SCS in chronic back and limb pain so that the role of this important treatment modality may be cemented in the treatment paradigm for these patients without questions from third-party payers.

Conclusion.

The large majority of data covering costs of SCS argue in favor of the cost-effectiveness of this treatment modality for chronic neuropathic pain, especially in comparison to reoperation and medical management. Although most of the higher-quality evidence is relatively short-term, clinical experience with the durability of treatment benefit of SCS in these patients is promising. Given the pushback regarding high upfront costs of implantation, longer-term, prospective, randomized studies evaluating this topic will be important to help maintain third-party payer reimbursements for SCS.

Conclusion.

Level of Evidence: 5

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