To examine the magnitude and costs of ambulatory primary care, specialist physician care, and hospital service use for musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) in Canada’s largest province, Ontario.
Administrative health databases were analyzed for fiscal year 2013–2014 for adults aged ≥ 18 years, including data on physician services, emergency department (ED) visits, and hospitalizations. International Classification of Diseases diagnostic codes were used to identify MSD services. A validated algorithm was used to estimate direct medical costs. Person-visit rates and numbers of persons and visits were tabulated by care setting, age, sex, and physician specialty. Data were examined for all MSDs combined, as well as for specific diagnostic groupings.
Overall, 3.1 million adult Ontarians (28.5%) made over 8 million outpatient physician visits associated with MSDs. These included 5.6 million primary care visits. MSDs accounted for 560,000 (12.3%) of all adult ED visits. Total costs for MSD-related care were $1.6 billion, with 12.6% of costs attributed to primary care, 9.2% to specialist care, 8.6% to ED care, 8.5% to day surgery, and 61.2% associated with inpatient hospitalizations. Costs due to arthritis accounted for 40% of total MSD care costs ($639 million). MSD-related imaging costs were $169 million, yielding a total cost estimate of $1.8 billion for MSDs overall.
MSDs place a significant and costly burden on the healthcare system. Health system planning needs to consider the large and escalating demand for care to reduce both the individual and population burden.