Objective: Determine the relationship between time to surgery, lost time, and insurance costs.
Method: A cohort of 582 claimants undergoing lumbar spine surgery (1999 to 2002) in the state of Louisiana was observed for 7 years.
Results: The shorter the time interval between injury and first lumbar surgery, the lower the cost and time lost from work. Average days lost from work and claim costs for 42% of those undergoing early lumbar surgery did not differ from injured workers who lost time from work for claims not involving lumbar surgery. Claim cost for the remaining 58% who had delayed surgery was 5.7 times greater than that for the early surgery cohort.
Conclusion: The decision to perform lumbar surgery is not necessarily associated with high claim costs or longer time out from work, provided that the determination to operate is early.