DECISION AND ORDER
This case is decided pursuant to Chapter 410 of the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act and the Rules of the Texas Department of Insurance, Division of Workers’ Compensation. For the reasons discussed herein, the Hearing Officer determines that the preponderance of the evidence is not contrary to the decision of the IRO that Claimant is not entitled to an MRI without contrast to the lumbar spine for the compensable injury of (Date of Injury).
STATEMENT OF THE CASE
On October 8, 2014, Jacqueline Harrison, a Division hearing officer, held a contested case hearing to decide the following disputed issue:
- Is the preponderance of the evidence contrary to the decision of the Independent Review Organization (IRO) that the Claimant is not entitled to an MRI without contrast to the lumbar spine for the compensable injury of (Date of Injury)?
Petitioner/Claimant appeared and was assisted by SOI, ombudsman. Respondent/Carrier appeared and was represented by JL, attorney.
Evidence presented in the hearing revealed that Claimant sustained a compensable injury on (Date of Injury). Despite medications, therapy, a right L5-S1 microdiscectomy, and an epidural steroid injection on June 11, 2013, Claimant continued to be symptomatic with low back pain, according to the evidence.
Claimant/Petitioner testified that she had successful steroid injections previously. However, before she could receive additional injections, her treating physician was requiring a new MRI.
The utilization review dated June 14, 2014, resulted in a denial for the proposed MRI without contrast to the lumbar spine.
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(s), "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 pertinent provisions of the ODG applicable to this case are as follows, to wit:
MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging)
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 annular 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) 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) See also ACR Appropriateness Criteria™. See also Standing MRI.
Indications for imaging -- Magnetic resonance imaging:
- -Thoracic spine trauma: with neurological deficit
- -Lumbar spine trauma: trauma, neurological deficit
- -Lumbar spine trauma: seat belt (chance) fracture (If focal, radicular findings or other neurologic deficit)
- -Uncomplicated low back pain, suspicion of cancer, infection, other “red flags”
- -Uncomplicated low back pain, with radiculopathy, after at least 1 month conservative therapy, sooner if severe or progressive neurologic deficit.
- -Uncomplicated low back pain, prior lumbar surgery
- -Uncomplicated low back pain, cauda equina syndrome
- -Myelopathy (neurological deficit related to the spinal cord), traumatic
- -Myelopathy, painful
- -Myelopathy, sudden onset
- -Myelopathy, stepwise progressive
- -Myelopathy, slowly progressive
- -Myelopathy, infectious disease patient
- -Myelopathy, oncology patient
The case was reviewed by a medical doctor who upheld the denial of the MRI without contrast to the lumbar spine. The basis of the denial was that Claimant had been followed for a history of chronic low back complaints that were recently exacerbated due to activity. However, the IRO reviewer opined that Claimant’s clinical findings did not identify any red flags or evidence of progressive/severe neurological deficit in the lower extremities. Given the absence of any clear progressive or severe neurological deficit in the lower extremities on examination, guidelines would not support updated MRI studies of the lumbar spine. And because there was no documentation of a deficit indicated in the materials submitted for review, the requested procedure was denied.
Dr. WCN testified on behalf of the Carrier at the hearing. Dr. N indicated that the Claimant did not have any documented neurological deficits which would indicate the need for the MRI without contrast to the lumbar spine.
Medical documentation and testimony were insufficient to establish that the medical treatment requested was medically necessary. Therefore, the Petitioner has failed to meet her burden to overturn the decision of the IRO that she is not entitled to a MRI without contrast to the lumbar spine.
The Hearing Officer considered all of the evidence admitted. The Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law are based on an assessment of all of the evidence whether or not the evidence is specifically discussed in this Decision and Order.
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), Employer.
- Claimant sustained a compensable injury on (Date of Injury).
- On (Date of Injury), Employer provided workers’ compensation insurance with (Employer), as Self-Insured.
- 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.
- An MRI without contrast to the lumbar spine is not health care reasonably required for treatment of 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 an MRI without contrast to the lumbar spine is not health care reasonably required for the compensable injury of (Date of Injury).
Claimant is not entitled to an MRI without contrast to the lumbar spine 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 TASB RISK MANAGEMENT FUND and the name and address of its registered agent for service of process is:
JAMES B. CROW
7703 N. LAMAR
AUSTIN, TX 78752
Signed this 22nd day of October, 2014.