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Lumbar Fusion in Utah Workers’ Compensation Patients: Changing Outcomes Across a Decade

Cuneo, Jessica G. PhD; DeBerard, M. Scott PhD; Wheeler, Anthony J. MS

doi: 10.1097/BRS.0000000000001964
Occupational Health/Ergonomics

Study Design. This study was a retrospective-cohort design involving a review of patient medical and cost records and a 2-year postsurgery follow-up outcome survey.

Objective. To evaluate the functional and cost outcomes associated with recent lumbar fusion surgeries in Utah workers and compare these outcomes with a comparable prior study cohort.

Summary of Background Data. Lumbar fusion performed on injured workers has dramatically increased over the past 2 decades and this likely coincided with the increased use of more advanced surgical instrumentation. Considering the recent changes in lumbar fusion surgery, there is a need to identify how patient outcomes have changed among injured workers.

Materials and Methods. Retrospective chart review and 2-year postsurgery follow-up survey of patient outcomes were performed. Postsurgical outcomes for this sample were compared with established norms for back pain patients and a previous cohort of compensated lumbar fusion patients obtained from Workers’ Compensation Fund of Utah.

Results. The current cohort evidenced a solid fusion rate of 89% and significant increase in the use of surgical instrumentation, particularly titanium fusion cages. Despite increased solid fusion rates, injured workers who have undergone lumbar fusion in Utah demonstrated equivalent and in some cases worse outcomes than those documented a decade ago. Specifically, there were significant increases in back pain dysfunction and narcotic medication usage in the current versus the past cohort. Medical and compensation costs for compensated lumbar fusion patients in Utah also significantly increased since the mid-1990s.

Conclusion. Over the past decade, injured workers who have undergone lumbar fusion in Utah showed an increase in solid fusion rates and costs without a corresponding improvement in patient outcomes.

Level of Evidence. 3

*Department of Psychology, Utah State University, Logan, UT

VA San Diego Healthcare System, San Diego, CA.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to M. Scott DeBerard, PhD, Department of Psychology, Utah State University, Logan, UT 84341; E-mail:

Received 18 January, 2016

Revised 23 July, 2016

Accepted 3 August, 2016

The device(s)/drug(s) is/are FDA-approved or approved by corresponding national agency for this indication.

Workers’ Compensation Fund of Utah funds were received in support of this work.

No relevant financial activities outside the submitted work.

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