Pain Physician. 2022 May;25(3):223-238.
BACKGROUND: Multiple publications have shown the significant impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on US healthcare and increasing costs over the recent years in managing low back and neck pain as well as other musculoskeletal disorders. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected many modalities of treatments, including those related to chronic pain management, including both interventional techniques and opioids. While there have not been assessments of utilization of interventional techniques specific to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, previous analysis published with data from 2000 to 2018 demonstrated a decline in utilization of interventional techniques from 2009 to 2018 of 6.7%, with an annual decline of 0.8% per 100,000 fee-for-service (FFS) in the Medicare population. During that same time, the Medicare population has grown by 3% annually.
OBJECTIVES: The objectives of this analysis include an evaluation of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as an updated assessment of the utilization of interventional techniques in managing chronic pain in the Medicare population from 2010 to 2019, 2010 to 2020, and 2019 to 2020 in the FFS Medicare population of the United States.
STUDY DESIGN: Utilization patterns and variables of interventional techniques with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in managing chronic pain were assessed from 2000 to 2020 in the FFS Medicare population of the United States.
METHODS: The data for the analysis was obtained from the master database from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) physician/supplier procedure summary from 2000 to 2020.
RESULTS: The results of the present investigation revealed an 18.7% decrease in utilization of all interventional techniques per 100,000 Medicare beneficiaries from 2019 to 2020, with a 19% decrease for epidural and adhesiolysis procedures, a 17.5% decrease for facet joint interventions and sacroiliac joint blocks, and a 25.4% decrease for disc procedures and other types of nerve blocks. The results differed from 2000 to 2010 with an annualized increase of 10.2% per 100,000 Medicare population compared to an annualized decrease of 0.4% from 2010 to 2019, and a 2.5% decrease from 2010 to 2020 for all interventional techniques. For epidural and adhesiolysis procedures decreases were more significant and annualized at 3.1% from 2010 to 2019, increasing the decline to 4.8% from 2010 to 2020. For facet joint interventions and sacroiliac joint blocks, the reversal of growth patterns was observed but maintained at an annualized rate increase of 2.1% from 2010 to 2019, which changed to a decrease of 0.01% from 2010 to 2020. Disc procedures and other types of nerve blocks showed similar patterns as epidurals with an 0.8% annualized reduction from 2010 to 2019, which was further reduced to 3.6% from 2010 to 2020 due to COVID-19.
LIMITATIONS: Data for the COVID-19 pandemic impact were available only for 2019 and 2020 and only the FFS Medicare population was utilized; utilization patterns in Medicare Advantage Plans, which constitutes almost 40% of the Medicare enrollment in 2020 were not available. Moreover, this analysis shares the limitations present in all retrospective reviews of claims based datasets.
CONCLUSION: The decline driven by the COVID-19 pandemic was 18.7% from 2019 to 2020. Overall decline in utilization in interventional techniques from 2010 to 2020 was 22.0% per 100,000 Medicare population, with an annual diminution of 2.5%, despite an increase in the population rate of 3.3% annualized (38.9% overall) and Medicare enrollees of 33.4% and 2.9% annually.