A majority of chronic pain patients who are enrolled in a managed health care plan are using chiropractic care or acupuncture or both.
But many aren’t telling their primary care providers about it.
That’s the gist of a study that was released in the American Journal of Managed Care this week.
Researchers surveyed more than 6,000 patients in Oregon and Washington who were Kaiser Permanente members between 2009 and 2011. 58% of those patients surveyed reported they had used chiropractic care or acupuncture or both.
35% of them who had acupuncture and 42% who saw a chiropractor didn’t talk to their providers about the care.
“Our study confirms that most of our patients with chronic pain are seeking complementary treatments to supplement the care we provide in the primary care setting,” said Charles Elder, MD, MPH, lead author of the study and affiliate investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research. “The problem is that too often, doctors don’t ask about this treatment, and patients don’t volunteer the information.”
Chronic pain affects approximately 100 million Americans each year and costs nearly $600 billion, according to a report from the Institute of Medicine.
To find out how patients accessed this care researchers examined the medical records of patients who received acupuncture or chiropractic care in 2011. The majority of patients (66 percent) who received acupuncture accessed the services through their health plan, using a clinician referral or self-referral benefit. About half (45 percent) of patients who received chiropractic care accessed that care through their health plan. The remainder of patients went outside the health plan to access these services, or used a combination of health plan and outside resources to access the services.
The majority of the patients in the study (71 percent) were women, and the mean age was 61. Common complaints included back pain, joint pain, arthritis, extremity, neck and muscle pain, and headache.
Dr. Elder, who is also the physician lead for Kaiser Permanente’s complementary and alternative medicine program, added, “We want our patients to get better, so we need to ask them about the alternative and complementary approaches they are using. If we know what’s working and what’s not working, we can do a better job advising patients, and we may be able to recommend an approach they haven’t tried.”