DECISION AND ORDER
This case is decided pursuant to Chapter 410 of the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act and Rules of the Division of Workers’ Compensation adopted thereunder.
A contested case hearing was held on November 30, 2010 to decide the following disputed issue:
Is the preponderance of the evidence contrary to the decision of the Independent Review Organization that Claimant is not entitled to a left knee medial meniscectomy and abrasion arthroplasty for the compensable injury of ___________?
Claimant appeared, and was assisted by Ombudsman JO; Carrier appeared, and was represented by Adjustor RM.
Claimant, a campus police officer with (Employer), compensably injured his left knee on ___________. He described his symptoms and treatment to date, indicating that neither his prescribed medication nor his medically imposed off-work status has improved the condition of his knee, which continues to be painful and to click or pop.
In support of his request that the proposed treatment be authorized, Claimant presented medical records and letters from his doctor. These documents describe Claimant’s current medical condition and the anticipated improvement in his condition if surgery is performed.
Texas Labor Code Section 408.021 provides that an employee who sustains a compensable injury is entitled to all health care reasonably required by the nature of the injury as and when needed. Health care reasonably required is further defined in Texas Labor Code Section 401.011(22-a) as health care that is clinically appropriate and considered effective for the injured employee's injury and provided in accordance with best practices consistent with evidence based medicine or, if evidence based medicine is not available, then generally accepted standards of medical practice recognized in the medical community. Health care under the Texas Workers' Compensation system must be consistent with evidence based medicine if that evidence is available. Evidence based medicine is further defined in Texas Labor Code Section 401.011(18-a) to be the use of the current best quality scientific and medical evidence formulated from credible scientific studies, including peer-reviewed medical literature and other current scientifically based texts and treatment and practice guidelines. The Commissioner of the Division of Workers' Compensation is required to adopt treatment guidelines that are evidence-based, scientifically valid, and outcome-focused, and designed to reduce excessive or inappropriate medical care while safeguarding necessary medical care. Texas Labor Code Section 413.011(e). Medical services consistent with the medical policies and fee guidelines adopted by the commissioner are presumed reasonable. Texas Labor Code Section 413.017(1).
In accordance with the above statutory guidance, the Division of Workers' Compensation has adopted treatment guidelines by Division Rule 137.100. This rule directs health care providers to provide treatment in accordance with the current edition of the Official Disability Guidelines (ODG), and such treatment is presumed to be health care reasonably required as defined in the Texas Labor Code. Thus, the focus of any health care dispute starts with the health care set out in the ODG. Also, in accordance with Division Rule 133.308(t), "[a] decision issued by an IRO is not considered an agency decision and neither the Department nor the Division [is] considered [a party] to an appeal. In a Contested Case Hearing (CCH), the party appealing the IRO decision has the burden of overcoming the decision issued by an IRO by a preponderance of evidence-based medical evidence."
With regard to the recommended procedures, the ODG states as follows:
Recommended as indicated below for symptomatic meniscal tears. Not recommended for osteoarthritis (OA) in the absence of meniscal findings. (Kirkley, 2008) Meniscectomy is a surgical procedure associated with a high risk of knee osteoarthritis (OA). One study concludes that the long-term outcome of meniscal injury and surgery appears to be determined largely by the type of meniscal tear, and that a partial meniscectomy may have better long-term results than a subtotal meniscectomy for a degenerative tear. (Englund, 2001) Another study concludes that partial meniscectomy may allow a slightly enhanced recovery rate as well as a potentially improved overall functional outcome including better knee stability in the long term compared with total meniscectomy. (Howell-Cochrane, 2002) The following characteristics were associated with a surgeon's judgment that a patient would likely benefit from knee surgery: a history of sports-related trauma, low functional status, limited knee flexion or extension, medial or lateral knee joint line tenderness, a click or pain noted with the McMurray test, and a positive Lachmann or anterior drawer test. (Solomon, 2004) Our conclusion is that operative treatment with complete repair of all torn structures produces the best overall knee function with better knee stability and patient satisfaction. In patients younger than 35, arthroscopic meniscal repair can preserve meniscal function, although the recovery time is longer compared to partial meniscectomy. Arthroscopy and meniscus surgery will not be as beneficial for older patients who are exhibiting signs of degenerative changes, possibly indicating osteoarthritis, and meniscectomy will not improve the OA. Meniscal repair is much more complicated than meniscal excision (meniscectomy). Some surgeons state in an operative report that they performed a meniscal repair when they may really mean a meniscectomy. A meniscus repair is a surgical procedure done to repair the damaged meniscus. This procedure can restore the normal anatomy of the knee, and has a better long-term prognosis when successful. However, the meniscus repair is a more significant surgery, the recovery is longer, and, because of limited blood supply to the meniscus, it is not always possible. A meniscectomy is a procedure to remove the torn portion of the meniscus. This procedure is far more commonly performed than a meniscus repair. Most meniscus tears cannot be treated by a repair. See also Meniscal allograft transplantation. (Harner, 2004) (Graf, 2004) (Wong, 2004) (Solomon-JAMA, 2001) (Chatain, 2003) (Chatain-Robinson, 2001) (Englund, 2004) (Englund, 2003) (Menetrey, 2002) (Pearse, 2003) (Roos, 2000) (Roos, 2001) Arthroscopic debridement of meniscus tears and knees with low-grade osteoarthritis may have some utility, but it should not be used as a routine treatment for all patients with knee osteoarthritis. (Siparsky, 2007) Arthroscopic surgery for knee osteoarthritis offers no added benefit to optimized physical and medical therapy, according to the results of a single-center, RCT reported in the New England Journal of Medicine. The study, combined with other evidence, indicates that osteoarthritis of the knee (in the absence of a history and physical examination suggesting meniscal or other findings) is not an indication for arthroscopic surgery and indeed has been associated with inferior outcomes after arthroscopic knee surgery. However, osteoarthritis is not a contraindication to arthroscopic surgery, and arthroscopic surgery remains appropriate in patients with arthritis in specific situations in which osteoarthritis is not believed to be the primary cause of pain. (Kirkley, 2008) Asymptomatic meniscal tears are common in older adults, based on studying MRI scans of the right knee of 991 randomly selected, ambulatory subjects. Incidental meniscal findings on MRI of the knee are common in the general population and increase with increasing age. Identifying a tear in a person with knee pain does not mean that the tear is the cause of the pain. (Englund, 2008) Arthroscopic meniscal repair results in good clinical and anatomic outcomes. (Pujol, 2008) Whether or not meniscal surgery is performed, meniscal tears in the knee increase the risk of developing osteoarthritis in middle age and elderly patients, and individuals with meniscal tear were 5.7 times more likely to develop knee osteoarthritis. (Englund, 2009)
ODG Indications for Surgery -- Meniscectomy:
Criteria for meniscectomy or meniscus repair (Suggest 2 symptoms and 2 signs to avoid scopes with lower yield, e.g. pain without other symptoms, posterior joint line tenderness that could just signify arthritis, MRI with degenerative tear that is often false positive):
- Conservative Care: (Not required for locked/blocked knee.) Physical therapy. OR Medication. OR Activity modification. PLUS
- Subjective Clinical Findings (at least two): Joint pain. OR Swelling. OR Feeling of give way. OR Locking, clicking, or popping. PLUS
- Objective Clinical Findings (at least two): Positive McMurray's sign. OR Joint line tenderness. OR Effusion. OR Limited range of motion. OR Locking, clicking, or popping. OR Crepitus. PLUS
- Imaging Clinical Findings: (Not required for locked/blocked knee.) Meniscal tear on MRI.
Recommended as indicated below. Not recommended as a primary treatment for osteoarthritis, since arthroscopic surgery for knee osteoarthritis offers no added benefit to optimized physical therapy and medical treatment. (Kirkley, 2008) See also Meniscectomy.
ODG Indications for Surgery -- Chondroplasty:
Criteria for chondroplasty (shaving or debridement of an articular surface), requiring ALL of the following:
- Conservative Care: Medication. OR Physical therapy. PLUS
- Subjective Clinical Findings: Joint pain. AND Swelling. PLUS
- Objective Clinical Findings: Effusion. OR Crepitus. OR Limited range of motion. PLUS
- Imaging Clinical Findings: Chondral defect on MRI
(Washington, 2003) (Hunt, 2002) (Janecki, 1998)
In order to overcome the IRO’s decision, Claimant must successfully address both recommended procedures by showing that he either meets the ODG requirements for these procedures or by presenting evidence-based medical evidence contrary to the decision of the IRO.
A review of the evidence presented by Claimant reveals that Claimant meets the ODG criteria for a meniscectomy. Claimant has not, however, shown that he exhibits all of the symptoms contemplated by the ODG section that addresses chondroplasty. Specifically, neither Claimant’s medical records nor his testimony indicates a history of the requisite joint swelling; absent evidence of swelling, it can not be determined that Claimant meets the ODG. Since the records and letters of Dr. B constitute medical evidence, but do not constitute evidence-based medical evidence, it must be determined that Claimant has not met his burden of proof, and that a decision in Carrier’s favor is therefore appropriate as to the issue presented for resolution herein.
Even though all the evidence presented may not have been discussed in detail, it was considered; the Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law are based on all of the evidence presented.
FINDINGS OF FACT
- On ___________, Claimant was employed by the (Employer).
- On ___________, Employer subscribed to a policy of workers' compensation insurance issued by the Hartford Insurance Company of the Midwest, Carrier.
- On ___________, Claimant's residence was located within seventy-five miles of the (City) office of the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers' Compensation.
- Carrier delivered to Claimant a single document stating the true corporate name of Carrier, and the name and street address of Carrier’s registered agent, which document was admitted into evidence as Hearing Officer’s Exhibit Number 1.
- On ___________, Claimant sustained damage or harm to the physical structure of his body while he was within the course and scope of his employment with Employer.
- The injury referenced in the previous Finding of Fact arose out of Claimant's employment with Employer.
- A left knee medial meniscectomy and abrasion arthroplasty is not health care reasonably required for Claimant’s compensable injury of ___________.
CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
- The Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation, has jurisdiction to hear this case.
- Venue is proper in the (City) Field Office.
- The preponderance of the evidence-based medicine is not contrary to the decision of the Independent Review Organization that a left knee medial meniscectomy and abrasion arthroplasty is not health care reasonably required for Claimant’s compensable injury of ___________.
Claimant is not entitled to a left knee medial meniscectomy and abrasion arthroplasty for his compensable injury of ___________.
Carrier is not liable for the benefits at issue in this hearing. Claimant remains entitled to medical benefits for the compensable injury in accordance with §408.021.
The true corporate name of the insurance carrier is HARTFORD INSURANCE COMPANY OF THE MIDWEST, and the name and address of its registered agent for service of process is
CORPORATION SERVICE COMPANY
211 EAST 7TH STREET, SUITE 620
AUSTIN, TEXAS 78701
Signed this 1st day of December, 2010.
The Independent Review Organization considered abrasion arthroplasty and chondroplasty to be analogous terms, and neither party disagreed with that characterization.