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At a Glance:
Title:
12021-m6r
Date:
October 13, 2011

12021-m6r

October 13, 2011

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.

ISSUES

A contested case hearing was held on October 11, 2011 to decide the following disputed issue:

  1. Is the preponderance of the evidence contrary to the decision of the Independent Review Organization (IRO) that the claimant is not entitled to a repeat lumbar MRI with and without gadolinium for the compensable injury of (Date of Injury)?

PARTIES PRESENT

Claimant appeared and was assisted by EM, ombudsman. Carrier appeared and was represented by SS, attorney.

EVIDENCE PRESENTED

The following witnesses testified:

For Claimant: RM

For Carrier: None

The following exhibits were admitted into evidence:

Hearing Officer’s Exhibits HO-1 and HO-2.

Claimant’s Exhibits C-1 through C-12.

Carrier’s Exhibits CR-A through CR-O.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

The claimant sustained a compensable injury on (Date of Injury) when he lifted a weight of ninety pounds and experienced pain in his back. The claimant testified that he has had five MRI’s since the date of injury, three in Mexico (not submitted into evidence) and two in the United States. The first documented MRI was completed on November 6, 2008, and the second was performed on July 10, 2010 following surgery to the L4-5 herniation on November 20, 2009.

Dr. P recommended what would be the claimant’s sixth lumbar MRI because he felt the 2010 MRI is “completely useless” due to its lack of gadolinium testing. On June 13, 2011, the IRO reviewer, an anesthesiologist, issued an opinion upholding the denial of the MRI because the claimant had not maximized benefits from a course of conservative treatment, including pharmacotherapy, activity modification, and physical therapy. Furthermore, there was no clearly stated rationale for the repeat MRI. This was the second instance in which an IRO reviewer denied the claimant’s request for a repeated lumbar MRI; the first was denied on December 27, 2010.

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 in making decisions about the care of individual patients. 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 is 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 criteria/recommendations for lumbar MRI’s are, in relevant parts, as follows:

Recommended for indications below. MRI’s are test of choice for patients with prior back surgery. Repeat MRI is not routinely recommended, and should be reserved for a significant change in symptoms and/or findings suggestive of significant pathology (eg, tumor, infection, fracture, neurocompression, recurrent disc herniation). (Bigos, 1999) (Mullin, 2000) (ACR, 2000) (AAN, 1994) (Aetna, 2004) (Airaksinen, 2006) (Chou, 2007) Magnetic resonance imaging has also become the mainstay in the evaluation of myelopathy. An important limitation of magnetic resonance imaging in the diagnosis of myelopathy is its high sensitivity. The ease with which the study depicts expansion and compression of the spinal cord in the myelopathic patient may lead to false positive examinations and inappropriately aggressive therapy if findings are interpreted incorrectly. (Seidenwurm, 2000) There is controversary over whether they result in higher costs compared to X-rays including all the treatment that continues after the more sensitive MRI reveals the usual insignificant disc bulges and herniations. (Jarvik-JAMA, 2003) In addition, the sensitivities of the only significant MRI parameters, disc height narrowing and anular tears, are poor, and these findings alone are of limited clinical importance. (Videman, 2003) Imaging studies are used most practically as confirmation studies once a working diagnosis is determined. MRI, although excellent at defining tumor, infection, and nerve compression, can be too sensitive with regard to degenerative disease findings and commonly displays pathology that is not responsible for the patient's symptoms. With low back pain, clinical judgment begins and ends with an understanding of a patient's life and circumstances as much as with their specific spinal pathology. (Carragee, 2004) Diagnostic imaging of the spine is associated with a high rate of abnormal findings in asymptomatic individuals. Herniated disk is found on magnetic resonance imaging in 9% to 76% of asymptomatic patients; bulging disks, in 20% to 81%; and degenerative disks, in 46% to 93%. (Kinkade, 2007) Baseline MRI findings do not predict future low back pain. (Borenstein, 2001) MRI findings may be preexisting. Many MRI findings (loss of disc signal, facet arthrosis, and end plate signal changes) may represent progressive age changes not associated with acute events. (Carragee, 2006) MRI abnormalities do not predict poor outcomes after conservative care for chronic low back pain patients. (Kleinstück, 2006) The new ACP/APS guideline as compared to the old AHCPR guideline is more forceful about the need to avoid specialized diagnostic imaging such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) without a clear rationale for doing so. (Shekelle, 2008) A new meta-analysis of randomized trials finds no benefit to routine lumbar imaging (radiography, MRI, or CT) for low back pain without indications of serious underlying conditions, and recommends that clinicians should refrain from routine, immediate lumbar imaging in these patients. (Chou-Lancet, 2009) Despite guidelines recommending parsimonious imaging, use of lumbar MRI increased by 307% during a recent 12-year interval. When judged against guidelines, one-third to two-thirds of spinal computed tomography imaging and MRI may be inappropriate. (Deyo, 2009) As an alternative to MRI, a pain assessment tool named Standardized Evaluation of Pain (StEP), with six interview questions and ten physical tests, identified patients with radicular pain with high sensitivity (92%) and specificity (97%). The diagnostic accuracy of StEP exceeded that of a dedicated screening tool for neuropathic pain and spinal magnetic resonance imaging. (Scholz, 2009) Clinical quality-based incentives are associated with less advanced imaging, whereas satisfaction measures are associated with more rapid and advanced imaging, leading Richard Deyo, in the Archives of Internal Medicine to call the fascination with lumbar spine imaging an idolatry. (Pham, 2009) Primary care physicians are making a significant amount of inappropriate referrals for CT and MRI, according to new research published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology. There were high rates of inappropriate examinations for spinal CTs (53%), and for spinal MRIs (35%), including lumbar spine MRI for acute back pain without conservative therapy. (Lehnert, 2010) Degenerative changes in the thoracic spine on MRI were observed in approximately half of the subjects with no symptoms in this study. (Matsumoto, 2010) This large case series concluded that iatrogenic effects of early MRI are worse disability and increased medical costs and surgery, unrelated to severity. (Webster, 2010) Routine imaging for low back pain is not beneficial and may even be harmful, according to new guidelines from the American College of Physicians. Imaging is indicated only if they have severe progressive neurologic impairments or signs or symptoms indicating a serious or specific underlying condition, or if they are candidates for invasive interventions. Immediate imaging is recommended for patients with major risk factors for cancer, spinal infection, cauda equina syndrome, or severe or progressive neurologic deficits. Imaging after a trial of treatment is recommended for patients who have minor risk factors for cancer, inflammatory back disease, vertebral compression fracture, radiculopathy, or symptomatic spinal stenosis. Subsequent imaging should be based on new symptoms or changes in current symptoms. (Chou, 2011) The National Physicians Alliance compiled a "top 5" list of procedures in primary care that do little if anything to improve outcomes but excel at wasting limited healthcare dollars, and the list included routinely ordering diagnostic imaging for patients with low back pain, but with no warning flags, such as severe or progressive neurologic deficits, within the first 6 weeks. (Aguilar, 2011) Owning MRI equipment is a strongly correlated with patients receiving MRI scans, and having an MRI scan increases the probability of having surgery by 34%. (Shreibati, 2011) There is support for MRI, depending on symptoms and signs, to rule out serious pathology such as tumor, infection, fracture, and cauda equina syndrome. Patients with severe or progressive neurologic deficits from lumbar disc herniation, or subjects with lumbar radiculopathy who do not respond to initial appropriate conservative care, are also candidates for lumbar MRI to evaluate potential for spinal interventions including injections or surgery. For unequivocal evidence of radiculopathy, see AMA Guides. (Andersson, 2000)

The ODG states that repeat MRI’s are not routinely recommended absent a significant change in the patient’s symptoms or pathology. The medical evidence here does not conclusively establish that there has been such a change. The claimant has not presented sufficient evidence-based medical evidence to overcome the IRO decision in this case or to meet the criteria set out in the ODG for the desired repeat lumbar spine MRI with and without gadolinium.

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

  1. The parties stipulated to the following facts:

    A.Venue is proper in the (City) Office of the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation.

    B.On (Date of Injury), Claimant was the employee of (Employer), employer.

    C.On (Date of Injury), Employer provided workers’ compensation coverage through New Hampshire Insurance Company, Carrier.

  2. D.Claimant sustained a compensable injury on (Date of Injury).
  3. 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.
  4. The IRO determined that the claimant should not have a repeat lumbar MRI with and without gadolinium.
  5. A repeat lumbar MRI with and without gadolinium is not health care reasonably required for the compensable injury of (Date of Injury).

CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

  1. The Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation, has jurisdiction to hear this case.
  2. Venue is proper in the (City) Field Office.
  3. The preponderance of the evidence is not contrary to the decision of the IRO that a repeat lumbar MRI with and without gadolinium is not health care reasonably required for the compensable injury of (Date of Injury).

DECISION

Claimant is not entitled to a repeat lumbar MRI with and without gadolinium for the compensable injury of (Date of Injury).

ORDER

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 NEW HAMPSHIRE INSURANCE COMPANY, and the name and address of its registered agent for service of process is:

CORPORATION SERVICE COMPANY

211 EAST 7th ST., SUITE 620

AUSTIN, TEXAS 78701-3218

Signed this 13th day of October, 2011.

Robert Greenlaw
Hearing Officer

End of Document
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