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 July 1, 2011 to decide the following disputed issue:
- Is the preponderance of the evidence contrary to the decision of the IRO that the claimant is not entitled to a lumbar epidural steroid injection for the compensable injury of (Date of Injury)?
Petitioner/Claimant appeared by telephone at her request and was assisted by MM, ombudsman. Respondent/Carrier appeared and was represented by KP, attorney.
Claimant is a 47-year-old teacher who injured her low back on (Date of Injury) while moving student desks in the classroom. She has been under the care of Dr. A, D.C. as her treating physician since then and has been treated with conservative modalities and has had epidural steroid injections (ESIs) at L4-5. The treatment at issue is for additional ESI treatment. A previous proceeding in which the extent of Claimant’s injury was at issue, concluded with an agreed District Court judgment on May 18, 2006 which approved and incorporated a settlement agreement between Claimant and Carrier that the compensable injury is limited to a strain/sprain of the low back, and does not include a disc herniation at L4-5 and/or a disc displacement or disc protrusion at L5-S1. On April 7, 2011, an Independent Review Organization upheld the denial by Carrier of the requested additional treatment.
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 (22a) 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 (18a) 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, 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 in accordance with 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 are considered parties 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 epidural steroid injections, the ODG provides as follows:
Epidural steroid injections (ESIs), therapeutic
Recommended as a possible option for short-term treatment of radicular pain (defined as pain in dermatomal distribution with corroborative findings of radiculopathy) with use in conjunction with active rehab efforts. See specific criteria for use below. Radiculopathy symptoms are generally due to herniated nucleus pulposus or spinal stenosis, although ESIs have not been found to be as beneficial a treatment for the latter condition.
Short-term symptoms: The American Academy of Neurology recently concluded that epidural steroid injections may lead to an improvement in radicular pain between 2 and 6 weeks following the injection, but they do not affect impairment of function or the need for surgery and do not provide long-term pain relief beyond 3 months. (Armon, 2007) Epidural steroid injection can offer short-term pain relief and use should be in conjunction with other rehab efforts, including continuing a home exercise program. There is little information on improved function or return to work. There is no high-level evidence to support the use of epidural injections of steroids, local anesthetics, and/or opioids as a treatment for acute low back pain without radiculopathy. (Benzon, 1986) (ISIS, 1999) (DePalma, 2005) (Molloy, 2005) (Wilson-MacDonald, 2005) This recent RCT concluded that both ESIs and PT seem to be effective for lumbar spinal stenosis for up to 6 months. Both ESI and PT groups demonstrated significant improvement in pain and functional parameters compared to control and no significant difference was noted between the 2 treatment groups at 6 months, but the ESI group was significantly more improved at the 2nd week. (Koc, 2009)
Use for chronic pain: Chronic duration of symptoms (> 6 months) has also been found to decrease success rates with a threefold decrease found in patients with symptom duration > 24 months. The ideal time of either when to initiate treatment or when treatment is no longer thought to be effective has not been determined. (Hopwood, 1993) (Cyteval, 2006) Indications for repeating ESIs in patients with chronic pain at a level previously injected (> 24 months) include a symptom-free interval or indication of a new clinical presentation at the level.
Transforaminal approach: Some groups suggest that there may be a preference for a transforaminal approach as the technique allows for delivery of medication at the target tissue site, and an advantage for transforaminal injections in herniated nucleus pulposus over translaminar or caudal injections has been suggested in the best available studies. (Riew, 2000) (Vad, 2002) (Young, 2007) This approach may be particularly helpful in patients with large disc herniations, foraminal stenosis, and lateral disc herniations. (Colorado, 2001) (ICSI, 2004) (McLain, 2005) (Wilson-MacDonald, 2005)
Fluoroscopic guidance: Fluoroscopic guidance with use of contrast is recommended for all approaches as needle misplacement may be a cause of treatment failure. (Manchikanti, 1999) (Colorado, 2001) (ICSI, 2004) (Molloy, 2005) (Young, 2007)
Factors that decrease success: Decreased success rates have been found in patients who are unemployed due to pain, who smoke, have had previous back surgery, have pain that is not decreased by medication, and/or evidence of substance abuse, disability or litigation. (Jamison, 1991) (Abram, 1999) Research reporting effectiveness of ESIs in the past has been contradictory, but these discrepancies are felt to have been, in part, secondary to numerous methodological flaws in the early studies, including the lack of imaging and contrast administration. Success rates also may depend on the technical skill of the interventionalist. (Carette, 1997) (Bigos, 1999) (Rozenberg, 1999) (Botwin, 2002) (Manchikanti , 2003) (CMS, 2004) (Delport, 2004) (Khot, 2004) (Buttermann, 2004) (Buttermann2, 2004) (Samanta, 2004) (Cigna, 2004) (Benzon, 2005) (Dashfield, 2005) (Arden, 2005) (Price, 2005) (Resnick, 2005) (Abdi, 2007) (Boswell, 2007) (Buenaventura, 2009) Also see Epidural steroid injections, “series of three” and Epidural steroid injections, diagnostic. ESIs may be helpful with radicular symptoms not responsive to 2 to 6 weeks of conservative therapy. (Kinkade, 2007) Epidural steroid injections are an option for short-term pain relief of persistent radiculopathy, although not for nonspecific low back pain or spinal stenosis. (Chou, 2008) As noted above, injections are recommended if they can facilitate a return to functionality (via activity & exercise). If post-injection physical therapy visits are required for instruction in these active self-performed exercise programs, these visits should be included within the overall recommendations under Physical therapy, or at least not require more than 2 additional visits to reinforce the home exercise program.
With discectomy: Epidural steroid administration during lumbar discectomy may reduce early neurologic impairment, pain, and convalescence and enhance recovery without increasing risks of complications. (Rasmussen, 2008)
An updated Cochrane review of injection therapies (ESIs, facets, trigger points) for low back pain concluded that there is no strong evidence for or against the use of any type of injection therapy, but it cannot be ruled out that specific subgroups of patients may respond to a specific type of injection therapy. (Staal-Cochrane, 2009) Recent studies document a 629% increase in expenditures for ESIs, without demonstrated improvements in patient outcomes or disability rates. (Deyo, 2009) There is fair evidence that epidural steroid injection is moderately effective for short-term (but not long-term) symptom relief. (Chou3, 2009) This RCT concluded that caudal epidural injections containing steroids demonstrated better and faster efficacy than placebo. (Sayegh, 2009)
Criteria for the use of Epidural steroid injections:
Note: The purpose of ESI is to reduce pain and inflammation, thereby facilitating progress in more active treatment programs, reduction of medication use and avoiding surgery, but this treatment alone offers no significant long-term functional benefit.
- Radiculopathy must be documented. Objective findings on examination need to be present. Radiculopathy must be corroborated by imaging studies and/or electrodiagnostic testing.
- Initially unresponsive to conservative treatment (exercises, physical methods, NSAIDs and muscle relaxants).
- Injections should be performed using fluoroscopy (live x-ray) and injection of contrast for guidance.
- Diagnostic Phase: At the time of initial use of an ESI (formally referred to as the “diagnostic phase” as initial injections indicate whether success will be obtained with this treatment intervention), a maximum of one to two injections should be performed. A repeat block is not recommended if there is inadequate response to the first block (< 30% is a standard placebo response). A second block is also not indicated if the first block is accurately placed unless: (a) there is a question of the pain generator; (b) there was possibility of inaccurate placement; or (c) there is evidence of multilevel pathology. In these cases a different level or approach might be proposed. There should be an interval of at least one to two weeks between injections.
- No more than two nerve root levels should be injected using transforaminal blocks.
- No more than one interlaminar level should be injected at one session.
- Therapeutic phase: If after the initial block/blocks are given (see “Diagnostic Phase” above) and found to produce pain relief of at least 50-70% pain relief for at least 6-8 weeks, additional blocks may be supported. This is generally referred to as the “therapeutic phase.” Indications for repeat blocks include acute exacerbation of pain, or new onset of radicular symptoms. The general consensus recommendation is for no more than 4 blocks per region per year. (CMS, 2004) (Boswell, 2007)
- Repeat injections should be based on continued objective documented pain relief, decreased need for pain medications, and functional response.
- Current research does not support a routine use of a “series-of-three” injections in either the diagnostic or therapeutic phase. We recommend no more than 2 ESI injections for the initial phase and rarely more than 2 for therapeutic treatment.
- It is currently not recommended to perform epidural blocks on the same day of treatment as facet blocks or sacroiliac blocks or lumbar sympathetic blocks or trigger point injections as this may lead to improper diagnosis or unnecessary treatment.
- Cervical and lumbar epidural steroid injection should not be performed on the same day. (Doing both injections on the same day could result in an excessive dose of steroids, which can be dangerous, and not worth the risk for a treatment that has no long-term benefit.
In this case Claimant’s treating physician, Dr. A, D.C., testified that he referred Claimant for an epidural steroid injection in order to treat her disc injury at L4-5. He agreed that the ODG does not approve epidural steroid injections for treatment of a strain/sprain. He stated that the extent of injury is a medical decision that should not be made by non-medical entities and that he did not agree that the injury in this case is limited to a strain/sprain. Dr. A did not address the contention of the IRO reviewer that the ODG criteria are not met in this case due to failure to document at least a 50-70% pain relief for 6-8 weeks after the initial block.
In this case the preponderance of the evidence is not contrary to the decision of the IRO because the injury has been judicially determined to be a lumbar strain/sprain for which epidural steroid injection is not recommended. An agreed order was entered that the compensable injury specifically does not include disc herniations or protrusions at L4-5 and L5-S1. The MCCH Decision Manual discusses the requirement that “Health Care Reasonably Required” must be health care proposed or provided to treat a compensable injury or condition, citing M6-10-25009-01. In that case, shoulder impingement syndrome had been determined to be noncompensable and the proposed treatment was intended to address chronic impingement syndrome. The treatment was held not to be medically reasonable and necessary because it addressed a noncompensable condition. An additional reason mandating denial of the requested ESIs in this case is that there is no documentation of pain relief with previous injections as mentioned by the IRO reviewer, so that the requirements prescribed by the ODG as prerequisites for epidural steroid injections are not met.
Even though all the evidence presented was not discussed, it was considered. The Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law are based on all of the evidence presented.
FINDINGS OF FACT
- The parties stipulated to the following facts:
- Venue is proper in the (City) Field Office of the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation.
- On (Date of Injury), Claimant was the employee of (Employer), which provided workers’ compensation coverage on that date through self-insurance.
- Claimant sustained a compensable injury on (Date of Injury).
- On April 7, 2011, the Independent Review Organization determined that Claimant is not entitled to the requested lumbar epidural steroid injection in this case.
- 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 2.
- A lumbar epidural steroid injection is not health care reasonably required for the compensable injury of April 8, 2004.
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 is not contrary to the decision of the IRO that a lumbar epidural steroid injection is not health care reasonably required for the compensable injury of (Date of Injury).
Claimant is not entitled to a lumbar epidural steroid injection for the compensable injury of (Date of Injury).
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 (SELF-INSURED) and the name and address of its registered agent for service of process is:
(CITY) TEXAS (ZIP CODE)
Signed this 5th day of July, 2011.
Warren E. Hancock, Jr.