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Home > New Study Finds Health Care Costs Reduced When Employees with Low Back Pain Receive Naturopathic Care

New Study Finds Health Care Costs Reduced When Employees with Low Back Pain Receive Naturopathic Care

New Study Finds Health Care Costs Reduced When Employees With Low Back Pain Receive Naturopathic Care
An economic evaluation alongside a clinical trial of warehouse workers finds participants needed less medication, fewer practitioner visitsand had less absenteeism; Employer/employee jointly realize $1000 in savings
(PORTLAND, OR) – August 9, 2006 – Outcomes studies involving complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) are, unfortunately, limited. This is especially true for treatment of low back pain (LBP) which is said to be the fifth most common reason for physician visits and costs the current healthcare system some $20 billion each year. A soon-to-be-released economic evaluation of naturopathic care administered to a group of warehouse workers has found that this approach is clinically and economically beneficial.

A New Study

The study is entitled, Cost-Effectiveness of Naturopathic Care for Low Back Pain. The research team is comprised of Patricia M. Herman, ND, MS, of the Department of Psychology, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ; Orest Szczurko, ND, Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, Toronto, CN and the Noumena Health Clinic, Mississauga, CN; Kieran Cooley, ND, of the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, Toronto, CN; and Edward Mills, DPH, MSc, FRSH, PhD, of the Division of Clinical Epidemiology, Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine, Toronto, CN and the Department of Clinical Epidemiology & Biostatistics, McMaster University, Ontario, CN. The study was funded by a grant from the National Institutes of Health/National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM).

Dr. Herman and her team will present their findings at the 21st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (http://www.Naturopathic.org). The meeting is being held August 9-12, 2006 at the Oregon Convention Center, Portland, OR.


This economic evaluation utilized data gathered during a randomized clinical trial conducted in FY 2005 involving 75 union workers in a profession known to have high rates of LBP. The participants received naturopathic care (comprised of acupuncture, relaxation exercises and dietary advice) over a 3-month period.

Quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs) were calculated using SF-36 (Medical Outcomes Survey - Short Form) raw scores. Absenteeism was estimated based upon changes in the Roland-Morris Disability Questionnaire (RDQ) and the Moffett et al. (1999) study. The researchers used the SF-36, the RDQ, and study participant’s medication use and adjunctive (i.e., secondary) care for the analyses.


Clinical researchers had previously determined that naturopathic intervention reduced LBP and related disability and improved overall quality of life during the 3-month study period and at the 3-month follow up (six months total). Dr. Herman and her colleagues calculated the cost-effectiveness of the naturopathic intervention over the same 6-month period.

Using de-identified participant data, they concluded the following:

Cost Effectiveness
  • The cost of the naturopathic intervention was approximately $1,100 (USD) per person more than the cost of usual care.
  • However, $1,300 (USD) per person was saved in other medical costs (visits to other practitioners and medications for low back pain) during the period. Whether these savings would accrue to employer or the employee would depend on the healthcare coverage provided.
  • Also, naturopathic care is estimated to reduce absenteeism by approximately 5 days per person across the 6-month period. At average US employer costs for employee compensation, this reduction in absenteeism translates into $900 in savings to the employer per person. This figure would have been higher had “presenteeism” (reduced productivity while on the job) been included in the calculation.
  • The total estimated net cost (savings) per patient to society as a whole for the treatment is $1,000 (USD) (comprised of $1,100 net costs for treatment, $1,300 net savings from reductions in other medical care costs, and $900 net savings from reduced absenteeism; total savings do not exactly match the sum of these figures due to rounding).
Quality of Life

According to measures of disability due to low back pain, the average person in the study was at approximately 70 percent of "perfect health" at the beginning of the study. The naturopathic interventions can be said to have improved participants’ health to a level equivalent to 30 “perfect health” days over the six-month period.
Naturopathic care for LBP in these study participants is clinically and economically effective.


The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) was founded in 1985 to provide alternative methods for healing human diseases and disorders than have been traditionally offered in the United States. Members of the AANP must have graduated from one of North America’s six accredited graduate schools of naturopathic medicine.
Editor’s Note: To schedule an interview Dr. Herman,

contact Donna Krupa at 703.967.2751; djkrupa1@aol.com

or call the AANP newsroom at 503-963-5740. For more information about

naturopathic physicians, log on to http://www.naturopathic.org/.