How does accounting for worker productivity affect the measured cost-effectiveness of lumbar discectomy?

Lane Koenig*, Timothy M. Dall, Qian Gu, Josh Saavoss, Michael F. Schafer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


Background: Back pain attributable to lumbar disc herniation is a substantial cause of reduced workplace productivity. Disc herniation surgery is effective in reducing pain and improving function. However, few studies have examined the effects of surgery on worker productivity. Questions/purposes: We wished to determine the effect of disc herniation surgery on workers' earnings and missed workdays and how accounting for this effect influences the cost-effectiveness of surgery? Methods: Regression models were estimated using data from the National Health Interview Survey to assess the effects of lower back pain caused by disc herniation on earnings and missed workdays. The results were incorporated into Markov models to compare societal costs associated with surgical and nonsurgical treatments for privately insured, working patients. Clinical outcomes and utilities were based on results from the Spine Patient Outcomes Research Trial and additional clinical literature. Results: We estimate average annual earnings of $47,619 with surgery and $45,694 with nonsurgical treatment. The increased earnings for patients receiving surgery as compared with nonsurgical treatment is equal to $1925 (95% CI, $1121-$2728). After surgery, we also estimate that workers receiving surgery miss, on average, 3 fewer days per year than if workers had received nonsurgical treatment (95% CI, 2.4-3.7 days). However, these fewer missed work days only partially offset the assumed 20 workdays missed to recover from surgery. More fully accounting for the effects of disc herniation surgery on productivity reduced the cost of surgery per quality-adjusted life year (QALY) from $52,416 to $35,146 using a 4-year time horizon and from $27,359 to $4186 using an 8-year time horizon. According to a sensitivity analysis, the 4-year cost per QALY varies between $27,921 and $49,787 depending on model assumptions. Conclusions: Increased worker earnings resulting from disc herniation surgery may offset the increased direct medical costs associated with surgery. After accounting for the effects on productivity, disc herniation surgery was found to be a highly cost-effective surgery and may yield net societal savings if the benefits of outpatient and inpatient surgery persist beyond 6 and 12 years, respectively. Level of Evidence: Level II, economic and decision analysis. See the Instructions for Authors for a complete description of levels of evidence.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1069-1079
Number of pages11
JournalClinical orthopaedics and related research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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