In attempts to reduce practice variation, clinical practice guidelines for neck pain have been published. The purpose of this study was to determine the effect of receiving guideline adherent physical therapy (PT) on clinical outcomes, health care utilization, and charges for health care services in patients with neck pain. A retrospective review of 298 patients with neck pain receiving PT from 2008 to 2011 was performed. Clinical outcomes, utilization, and charges were compared between patients who received guideline adherent care and nonadherent care. Patients in the adherent care group experienced a lower percentage improvement in pain score compared to nonadherent care group (p = .01), but groups did not show significant variation on percentage improvement in disability (p = .32). However, patients receiving adherent care had an average 3.6 fewer PT visits (p < .001) and less charges for PT (p < .001). Additionally, patients receiving adherent care had 7.3 fewer visits to other health care providers (p < .001), one less prescription medication (p = .02) and 43% fewer diagnostic images (p = .02) but did not differ in their charges to other health care providers (p = .68) during the calendar year of undergoing PT. While the administration of guideline adherent care showed positive effects on health care utilization and financial outcomes, there seem to be a trade-off with clinical outcomes.
Out of all 291 conditions studied in the Global Burden of Disease 2010 Study, neck pain ranked 4th highest in terms of disability and 21st in terms of overall burden.