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 June 8, 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 outpatient medial branch block for the compensable injury of (Date of Injury)?
Petitioner/Claimant appeared and was assisted by RB, ombudsman. Respondent/Self-Insured appeared and was represented by JF, attorney.
On (Date of Injury) Claimant sustained a compensable injury, including injury to her low back, when she slipped and fell. In 2007 she came under the care of Dr. H for pain management. After epidural steroid injections failed to provide relief, Dr. B performed a laminectomy and decompression at L5-S1 on December 17, 2008. Claimant continued to suffer with low back pain. In December 2010 Dr. H requested pre-authorization for a diagnostic outpatient medial branch block, to see if Claimant was a candidate for a facet neurectomy. The IRO doctor, board certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation and pain management, upheld the previous adverse determinations.
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."
The ODG entry for medial branch blocks refers the reader to the entry for facet joint medial branch blocks (therapeutic injections), which provides the following:
Not recommended except as a diagnostic tool. Minimal evidence for treatment.
Pain Physician 2005: In 2005 Pain Physician published an article thatstated that there was moderate evidence for the use of lumbar medial branch blocks for the treatment of chronic lumbar spinal pain. (Boswell, 2005) This was supported by one study. (Manchikanti, 2001) Patients either received a local anesthetic or a local anesthetic with methyl prednisolone. All blocks included Sarapin. Sixty percent of the patients overall underwent seven or more procedures over the 2½ year study period (8.4 ± 0.31 over 13 to 32 months). There were more procedures recorded for the group that received corticosteroids that those that did not (301 vs. 210, respectively). [“Moderate evidence” is a definition of the quality of evidence to support a treatment outcome according to Pain Physician.] The average relief per procedure was 11.9 ± 3.7 weeks.
Pain Physician 2007: This review included an additional randomized controlled trial. (Manchikanti2, 2007) Controlled blocks with local anesthetic were used for the diagnosis (80% reduction of pain required). Four study groups were assigned with 15 patients in each group: (1) bupivacaine only; (2) bupivacaine plus Sarapin; (3) bupivacaine plus steroid; and (4) bupivacaine, steroid and Sarapin. There was no placebo group. Doses of 1-2ml were utilized. The average number of treatments was 3.7 and there was no significant difference in number of procedures noted between the steroid and non-steroid group. Long-term improvement was only thought to be possible with repeat interventions. All groups were significantly improved from baseline (a final Numeric Rating Scale score in a range from 3.5 to 3.9 for each group). Significant improvement occurred in the Oswestry score from baseline in all groups, but there was also no significant difference between the groups. There was no significant difference in opioid intake or employment status. There was no explanation posited of why there was no difference in results between the steroid and non-steroid groups. This study was considered positive for both short- and long-term relief, although, as noted, repeated injections were required for a long-term effect. Based on the inclusion of this study the overall conclusion was changed to suggest that the evidence for therapeutic medial branch blocks was moderate for both short- and long-term pain relief. (Boswell2, 2007) Psychiatric comorbidity is associated with substantially diminished pain relief after a medial branch block injection performed with steroid at one-month follow-up. These findings illustrate the importance of assessing comorbid psychopathology as part of a spine care evaluation. (Wasan, 2009) The use of the blocks for diagnostic purposes is discussed in Facet joint diagnostic blocks (injections). See also Facet joint intra-articular injections (therapeutic blocks).
The ODG provides the following concerning facet joint intra-articular injections (therapeutic blocks):
Under study. Current evidence is conflicting as to this procedure and at this time no more than one therapeutic intra-articular block is suggested. If successful (pain relief of at least 50% for a duration of at least 6 weeks), the recommendation is to proceed to a medial branch diagnostic block and subsequent neurotomy (if the medial branch block is positive). If a therapeutic facet joint block is undertaken, it is suggested that it be used in consort with other evidence based conservative care (activity, exercise, etc.) to facilitate functional improvement. (Dreyfuss, 2003) (Colorado, 2001) (Manchikanti , 2003) (Boswell, 2005) See Segmental rigidity (diagnosis). In spite of the overwhelming lack of evidence for the long-term effectiveness of intra-articular steroid facet joint injections, this remains a popular treatment modality. Intra-articular facet joint injections have been popularly utilized as a therapeutic procedure, but are not currently recommended as a treatment modality in most evidence-based reviews as their benefit remains controversial. The therapeutic facet joint injections described here are injections of a steroid (combined with an anesthetic agent) into the facet joint under fluoroscopic guidance to provide temporary pain relief. (Dreyfuss, 2003) (Nelemans-Cochrane, 2000) (Carette, 1991) (Nelemans, 2001) (Slipman, 2003) (van Tulder, 2006) (Colorado, 2001) (ICSI, 2004) (Bogduk, 2005) (Resnick, 2005) (Airaksinen, 2006) 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)
Systematic reviews endorsing therapeutic intra-articular facet blocks:
Pain Physician, 2005: In 2005 there were two positive systematic reviews published in Pain Physician that stated that the evidence was moderate for short-term and limited for long-term improvement using this intervention. (Boswell, 2005) (Boswell, 2005) These results were based, in part, on five observational studies. These non-controlled studies were confounded by variables such as lack of confirmation of diagnosis by dual blocks and recording of subjective pain relief, or with measures that fell under verbal rating and/or pain relief labels (measures that have been reported to have problems with validity). (Edwards, 2005)
Pain Physician, 2007: Pain Physician again published a systematic review on this subject in 2007 and added one additional randomized trial comparing intra-articular injections with sodium hyaluronate to blocks with triamcinolone acetonide. The diagnosis of facet osteoarthritis was made radiographically. (Fuchs, 2005) Two randomized trials were not included, in part, as they failed to include controlled diagnostic blocks. These latter articles were negative toward the use of therapeutic facet blocks. (Lilius, 1989) (Marks, 1992) An observational non-controlled study that had positive results was included that made the diagnosis of lumbar facet syndrome based on clinical assessment of “pseudoradicular” lumbar pain, including evidence of an increase of pain in the morning and with excessive stress and exercise (no diagnostic blocks were performed). (Schulte, 2006) With the inclusion of these two articles the conclusion was changed so that the evidence for lumbar intra-articular injections was “moderate” for both short-and long-term improvement of low back pain. (Boswell2, 2007)
Complications: These includedsuppression of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis for up to 4 weeks due to steroids with resultant elevated glucose levels for less than a week. (Ward, 2002) There have been rare cases of infection (septic arthritis, epidural abscess and meningitis). (Cohen, 2007) Complications from needle placement include dural puncture, spinal cord trauma, intraartierial and intravenous injection, spinal anesthesia, neural trauma, pneumothorax, and hematoma formation. (Boswell2, 2007)
Single photon emission computed tomography: (bone scintigraphy, SPECT scan): Not recommended although recent research is promising. This technique is recommended based on the ability of radionuclide bone scintigraphy to detect areas of increased function, depicting synovial areas of inflammation as well as degenerative changes. Thirteen of 15 patients had a > 1 standard deviation pain score improvement at 1 month versus 7 of 32 patients with a negative or no scan. The benefit of the injection lasted for approximately 3 months and did not persist to 6 months. (Pneumaticos2, 2006) See also Facet joint diagnostic blocks (injections); Facet joint pain, signs & symptoms; Facet joint radiofrequency neurotomy; Facet joint medial branch blocks (therapeutic injections); & Segmental rigidity (diagnosis). Also see Neck Chapter and Pain Chapter.
Criteria for use of therapeutic intra-articular and medial branch blocks, are as follows:
- No more than one therapeutic intra-articular block is recommended.
- There should be no evidence of radicular pain, spinal stenosis, or previous fusion.
- If successful (initial pain relief of 70%, plus pain relief of at least 50% for a duration of at least 6 weeks), the recommendation is to proceed to a medial branch diagnostic block and subsequent neurotomy (if the medial branch block is positive).
- No more than 2 joint levels may be blocked at any one time.
- There should be evidence of a formal plan of additional evidence-based activity and exercise in addition to facet joint injection therapy.
The ODG criteria for diagnostic medial branch block include the requirement that there be no evidence of radicular pain. The IRO doctor thought the requested procedure was “not reasonable or medically indicated”, observing that, based on the records provided, Claimant’s problem was radiculopathy, not localized paravertebral pain. The utilization review doctors noted examination records showing no tenderness over the facet regions and a question of radiculopathy. Claimant has never had an intra-articular block.
There was a letter from Dr. H stating his opinion that the requested procedure was medically necessary and appropriate. The letter does not mention the ODG criteria. Claimant testified the December 2008 surgery stopped the pain running down her left leg, but her back still hurt. She said Dr. H told her a medial branch block was needed for diagnostic purposes to see if another procedure would provide relief.
Claimant failed to overcome the IRO decision by the preponderance of evidence based medical evidence.
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:
- A.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 (Self-Insured), Employer.
- On (Date of Injury) Employer provided workers’ compensation insurance through (Self-Insured).
- On (Date of Injury) Claimant sustained a compensable injury.
- E.The Independent Review Organization determined Claimant should not have the requested treatment.
2.Self-Insured delivered to Claimant a single document stating the true corporate name of Self-Insured, and the name and street address of Self-Insured’s registered agent, which document was admitted into evidence as Hearing Officer’s Exhibit Number 2.
3.Outpatient medial branch block is not health care reasonably required for the
- compensable injury of (Date of Injury).
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 outpatient medial branch block is not health care reasonably required for the compensable injury of (Date of Injury).
Claimant is not entitled to attend a chronic pain management program five days a week for two weeks for the compensable injury of (Date of Injury).
Self-Insured is not liable for the benefits at issue in this hearing. Claimant remains entitled to medical benefits for the compensable injury in accordance with Section 408.021 of the Act.
The true corporate name of the insurance Self-Insured is (SELF-INSURED), and the name and address of its registered agent for service of process is
(CITY), TEXAS (ZIP CODE)
Signed this 8th day of June, 2011.