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Characterizing high-cost healthcare users among adults with back pain in Ontario, Canada: a population-based cohort study


Some patients with back pain contribute disproportionately to high healthcare costs; however, characteristics of high-cost users with back pain are not well defined. We described high-cost healthcare users based on total costs among a population-based cohort of adults with back pain within the Ontario government’s single-payer health system across sociodemographic, health, and behavioural characteristics. We conducted a population-based cohort study of Ontario adult (aged 18 years or older) respondents of the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS) with back pain (2003-2012), linked to administrative data (n = 36,605; weighted n = 2,076,937, representative of Ontario). Respondents were ranked based on gradients of total healthcare costs (top 1%, top 2%-5%, top 6%-50%, and bottom 50%) for 1 year following the CCHS survey, with high-cost users as top 5%. We used multinomial logistic regression to investigate characteristics associated with the 4 cost groups. Top 5% of cost users accounted for 49% ($4 billion CAD) of total healthcare spending, with inpatient hospital care as the largest contributing service type (approximately 40% of costs). Top 5% high-cost users were more likely aged 65 years or older (ORtop1% = 16.6; ORtop2-5% = 44.2), with lower income (ORtop1% = 3.6; ORtop 2-5% = 1.8), chronic disease(s) (ORtop1% = 3.8; ORtop2-5% = 1.6), Aggregated Diagnosis Groups measuring comorbidities (ORtop1% = 25.4; ORtop2-5% = 13.9), and fair/poor self-rated general health (ORtop1% = 6.7; ORtop2-5% = 4.6) compared with bottom 50% users. High-cost users tended to be current/former smokers, obese, and report fair/poor mental health. High-cost users (based on total costs) among adults with back pain account for nearly half of all healthcare spending over a 1-year period and are associated with older age, lower income, comorbidities, and fair/poor general health. Findings identify characteristics associated with a high-risk group for back pain to inform healthcare and public health strategies that target upstream determinants.



Wong JJ, Côté P, Tricco AC, Watson T, Rosella LC. Pain. 2024; Mar 5 [Epub ahead of print]

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