Cost-effectiveness of naturopathic care for chronic low back pain.
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OBJECTIVE: To determine the cost-effectiveness of naturopathic care (acupuncture, relaxation exercises, exercise and dietary advice, and a back care booklet) compared to standardized physiotherapy education and a back care booklet (control treatment) for low back pain in a sample (N = 70) of warehouse workers. DESIGN: Economic evaluation based upon the results of a pragmatic randomized controlled trial to determine the cost-effectiveness of naturopathic care to society as a whole, to the employer, and to participants. RESULTS: Naturopathic care (as compared to the control treatment) significantly improved quality-adjusted life-years over the 6-month study period (3-month intervention period and 3-month follow-up period) by 0.0256 (95% CI: 0.0075, 0.0437)--roughly equivalent to 9.4 "perfect health" days. Naturopathic care also significantly reduced societal costs by $1212 per participant. From the perspective of the employer, the intervention cost $154 per absentee day avoided (compared to employer costs of lost productivity of $172 per day) and had a return on investment of 7.9% under the healthcare coverage limits set by this employer and assuming the employer paid the full cost of naturopathic care. Participants experienced savings in adjunctive care of $1096 per participant. CONCLUSIONS: This economic evaluation alongside a pragmatic randomized control trial shows naturopathic care to be more cost-effective than a standardized physiotherapy education regimen in the treatment of chronic low back pain. Further studies of the economic impact of naturopathic medicine are warranted.
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