Worker’s compensation (WC) patients undergoing lumbar spine surgery fare worse post-surgery than other patients undergoing the same procedures, according to two studies published in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine.

“These studies confirm that workers’ compensation patients are significantly more likely to experience greater pain and residual disability, as well as delayed return to work, than other patients who have the same procedures,” noted Gerry Stanley, M.D., chief medical officer at Harvard MedTech, an author on both studies. “Consequently, these patients experienced a lower quality of life, higher cost for treatment, and a greater likelihood of reliance on addictive pain medications.”

The results of the studies will be discussed at the National Workers’ Compensation and Disability Conference, September 20, at 2:30PM PST in the presentation, “Follow the Patient Journey: Sidestep Pitfalls Throughout the Life of a Claim.”

The most recent article, published in July 21, 2023, analyzed 9957 patients who had had 1 – 4-level anterior cervical discectomy and fusion (ACDF).

One-year postoperative improvements, return-to-work rates and satisfaction were all significantly lower for workers’ compensation compared with non-workers compensation patients, even though workers’ compensation patients had fewer comorbidities and were younger.

A previous article, published March 24, 2023, evaluated 29,500 cases. It also found that worker’s compensation patients were significantly more likely to experience greater pain and residual disability, as well as a delayed return to work, than other patients.

The largest study of its kind to date, the research focused on data compiled on patients who underwent 1- to 4-level lumbar spinal fusion or decompression alone, as reported to the Quality Outcomes Database (QOD).

The data included one-year patient-reported outcomes from more than 200 hospital systems from 2012 to 2021.

All patients complained of back pain prior to surgery, the journal article noted.

Those in the workers’ compensation group were younger, more overweight and less likely to have a college or postgraduate education than the non-workers’ compensation population; they were also twice as likely to be smokers.

While the study theorized that the reasons for worse outcomes in the workers’ compensation patients could be multifactorial—due to injury severity, socioeconomic factors, and biopsychosocial behavior such as exacerbated illness promoting disability payments—it concluded that identifying the causes for the negative effects on these patients could yield better outcomes