As a branch of medical science, spinal cord stimulation has been around since the late 1960s, and it is continuing to grow, with new technological refinements and new applications being continuously explored, to the benefit of patients around the world. By 2019, the global total of new patients beginning spinal cord stimulator therapy had risen to 34,000 per year.
Yet in spite of the success of this medical advancement, many patients know little to nothing about spinal cord stimulators before their doctors suggest that they consider getting one as a pain management tool. Survivors of traumatic accidents or assaults who are hoping to cover their medical expenses through a liability settlement then find themselves in a particularly daunting position. Not only must they decide whether a spinal cord stimulator is right for them, but if the answer is yes, they must then justify their need for one to a jury of laypeople who know as little about the technology as they once did themselves.
In conjunction with trusted and principled medical experts, the Stoddard Firm is devoted to helping survivors of crime and corporate negligence access whatever medical technology they need to optimize their recoveries, including spinal cord stimulators.
Spinal Cord Stimulators Can Relieve Chronic and Neuropathic Pain Caused by a Range of Conditions
A spinal cord stimulator is a medical implant consisting of a power source and a set of thin electrodes, which are threaded between the patient’s vertebrae and spinal cord. By administering a small electrical charge, the stimulator can partially block pain signals before they reach the patient’s brain. Patients can activate their devices by remote control when they feel a pain flare-up, and the frequency and intensity of the charge can be tuned to an individual patient’s nervous system. Some devices allow healthcare professionals to program in multiple settings that patients can access with the touch of a button, if different activities or pain levels respond better to different stimulation.
Good candidates who receive successful implantations are able to use stimulation to “switch off” 50% or more of their pain, greatly reducing their risk of opiate addiction and often dramatically improving their quality of life.
Spinal cord stimulation is typically used to treat chronic pain that has not responded to other treatments. It is especially useful for failed back surgery syndrome (FBSS) and complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS). Both of these conditions involve persistent nerve pain with no obvious cause. In the case of FBSS, a patient’s pain never properly subsides following spinal surgery. With CRPS, the pain usually begins with an injury to an extremity, although it may also occur spontaneously or as the result of a stroke.
Other conditions treated with implanted spinal stimulators include:
Phantom limb pain from amputation
Spinal cord injures
Neuropathy caused by diabetes or cancer
Several of the conditions that may be best treated with a spinal cord stimulator — including FBSS, CRPS, spinal cord injuries, and amputation complications — are often the result of occupational accidents, traffic accidents, hazardous premises accidents, violent crimes, and other forms of negligence on the part of someone other than the patient. In many of these situations, personal health insurance companies will deny coverage, and patients must prove the severity of their injuries in court before they are able to afford the treatment they need.
Accident Survivors Have Shown Promising Improvement with the Help of Spinal Cord Stimulators
Although spinal cord stimulators are currently only approved by the FDA for the treatment of pain, these devices have also shown great promise in other areas of healing and quality of life restoration.
In November of 2019, a Canadian hockey player who had been paralyzed in a bus accident was implanted with a spinal stimulator at a medical facility in Thailand. Shortly after the procedure, he was able to move his legs, and a month later, with the additional help of stem cell injections and therapy, he was able to take a few steps.
American healthcare professionals are also investigating the stimulators’ potential for helping with restoring function in addition to relieving pain. Experimental surgeries are currently being performed in Minneapolis, and as early as 2011, a University of Louisville professor was able to combine spinal cord stimulation with activity-based training to help a patient with paralysis regain voluntary movement. Subsequent patients who’ve received this still-experimental therapy for paralysis have also reported improved sexual function, bladder and bowel control, and mental outlook.
We’re still a long way off from spinal stimulators being routinely used to treat more than pain, but this technology is likely to play a key role in the future of medical science and the treatment of paralysis in particular.
The Costs Are High, and Cheaper Substitutes Are Dangerous
The market for spinal cord stimulators is vast and continuing to grow. As of 2018, it was worth $2,268.9 million worldwide, and that figure is expected to rise to $4,236.2 million by the end of 2026. However, while that may be good news for developers and producers, it doesn’t mean much to the average patient struggling with the high cost of implantation and maintenance.
A cost analysis published by the Journal of Neurosurgery, examining cases ranging from 1995 to 2006, found that the cost of stimulator implantation averaged $32,882 for U.S patients with Medicare and $57,896 for patients with Blue Cross or Blue Shield coverage. In cases with no complications, annual maintenance cost an average of $5,071 or $7,277, depending on insurance, and treatment for a single complication could cost anywhere from $381 to $54,547. These costs assume a pre-negotiated rate afforded by health insurance. Without health insurance, we often see Spinal Stimulators cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase and install. Of course, we can often negotiate with medical providers to put off collection of those costs until after a personal injury case settles so long as there is an agreement that the cost be paid out of the settlement.
While the above comprehensive analysis has not yet been repeated with more recent figures, spinal cord stimulators do not appear to have made significant strides in affordability since. In 2015, the amount hospitals were being charged for the devices themselves rose by 8% over the previous year, due in part to the release of more advanced versions.
The size of the spinal cord stimulator market also makes it vital for patients and their healthcare providers to be careful and discerning about their decisions. The FDA has very little in the way of testing requirements for devices it deems to be “substantially similar” to those it has already approved, which means cheaper knockoffs of reputable stimulators can be rushed onto the market with serious flaws.
With this in mind, it’s all the more important for patients who are good spinal stimulator candidates to have the financial support they need to choose the best option for them. A potentially life-changing device that will be implanted along the primary communication pathway of a person’s nervous system is a terrible thing to skimp on.
In spite of the risks and high initial costs, spinal cord stimulators are many patients’ best option, not only for optimal quality of life but also for long-term cost-effectiveness. One 2012 study published in The Korean Journal of Pain found the procedure likely to produce significant lifetime savings when compared with other ongoing therapy options. Since then, multiple other studies have led the International Neuromodulation Society to declare the clinical and cost-effectiveness of spinal stimulators “unequivocal.”
The bottom line is that every accident survivor who might benefit from a spinal cord stimulator should be free to make that decision in concert with their healthcare provider, without having to worry about how to cover the costs.
Getting an Adequate Settlement for Chronic Pain Treatment Is Always a Challenge
Using a liability settlement to cover a spinal cord stimulator is far from unprecedented. In 2012, an Illinois family that had suffered multiple injuries in a train derailment was awarded $1.8 million. Among the medical expenses taken into account was a spinal cord stimulator implanted to treat one family member’s severe lower back injuries.
The main purpose of civil law is to make victims whole again, to the greatest extent possible. So, if your best treatment option is a spinal cord stimulator, and someone else’s negligence is the reason you need treatment in the first place, the negligent party or parties should be expected to cover not only implantation but maintenance for the rest of your life – and all of the pain suffering you have been through.
However, even though a settlement can and should cover all of your expenses — those associated with a spinal stimulator included — demonstrating your need for an expensive and still largely experimental procedure in court can be a difficult task. Pain is inherently difficult to prove, because it’s invisible. Having pain taken seriously and duly addressed is something patients often struggle with even in the privacy of a doctor’s office, where everyone is supposedly working toward the common goal of patient wellness. When legal proceedings are involved, advocating for your pain becomes even more intimidating and frustrating, because you’re going up against an opposing force, often a wealthy corporation, that is highly motivated to dismiss and discredit your condition.
In addition to reimbursement for whatever care you need to treat your pain, you also deserve compensation for the pain itself, and the effect it has had and may continue to have on your life. This fact further increases the stakes for the person or company that hurt you, and you’re likely to find yourself on the receiving end of verbal attacks that are the last thing you need while you’re trying to heal. That’s why it’s so important to have a good lawyer to argue on your behalf and minimize the stress of the process, so you have the space you need to recover now, and the resources you need to make your best possible recovery in the long run.
The Stoddard Firm Works with World-Class Experts to Get Our Clients the Coverage They Need
One of the most important tools in obtaining settlements for difficult-to-understand injuries, like nerve pain, is expert testimony. The Stoddard Firm regularly works hand-in-hand with a range of renowned medical experts, who can explain your individual medical condition, including the cause, severity, and persistence of your pain, in objective terms that judges and juries respect. We also have relationships with experts on spinal stimulation as a pain management technique, who can explain why a spinal cord stimulator is uniquely suited to restore your quality of life.
In addition to establishing your need for a spinal cord stimulator, the Stoddard Firm will also make sure the court understands the lasting effect your accident will continue to have on your life, even with spinal stimulation, so that your settlement accurately reflects the full extent of your practical and emotional losses. Most lawyers do not frequently represent clients with spinal cord stimulators, but because the Stoddard Firm only takes catastrophic injury cases – we frequently are litigating multiple spinal cord stimulator cases at the same time. We are very comfortable with litigating spinal cord injuries and holding corporations accountable for paying for spinal stimulators.
If you’ve been seriously injured in a work accident, premises accident, traffic accident, product defect, or assault, and you or your healthcare providers believe you may benefit from a spinal cord stimulator, reach out to The Stoddard Firm for a free consultation today. You can speak to one of our qualified attorneys any time at 678-RESULT, or through our online chat function.
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