Medical Policy: 01.01.05
Original Effective Date: August 2000
Reviewed: March 2017
Revised: March 2016
Benefit determinations are based on the applicable contract language in effect at the time the services were rendered. Exclusions, limitations or exceptions may apply. Benefits may vary based on contract, and individual member benefits must be verified. Wellmark determines medical necessity only if the benefit exists and no contract exclusions are applicable. This medical policy may not apply to FEP. Benefits are determined by the Federal Employee Program.
This Medical Policy document describes the status of medical technology at the time the document was developed. Since that time, new technology may have emerged or new medical literature may have been published. This Medical Policy will be reviewed regularly and be updated as scientific and medical literature becomes available.
Plagiocephaly, which refers to an asymmetrically shaped head, can be subdivided into synostotic and non-synostotic types. Synostotic plagiocephaly describes an asymmetrically shaped head due to premature closure of the sutures of the cranium. In plagiocephaly without synostosis, the sutures remain open. Plagiocephaly without synostosis, also called positional or deformational plagiocephaly, can be secondary to various environmental factors including, but not limited to, premature birth, restrictive intrauterine environment, birth trauma, torticollis, cervical anomalies, and sleeping position. Brachycephaly refers to a head shape that is not asymmetric but is disproportionately short. The incidence of plagiocephaly and brachycephaly has increased rapidly in recent years as a result of the "Back to Sleep" campaign recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, in which a supine sleeping position is recommended to reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). It is estimated that 1 of every 60 neonates may have some degree of plagiocephaly or brachycephaly. Positional plagiocephaly typically consists of right or left occipital flattening with advancement of the ipsilateral ear and prominence of the ipsilateral frontal region, resulting in visible facial asymmetry. Occipital flattening may be self-perpetuating, in that once it occurs it may be increasingly difficult for the infant to turn and sleep on the other side. Assessment of plagiocephaly and brachycephaly are based on anthropomorphic measures of the head, using anatomical and bony landmarks.
There are 3 basic options for treating plagiocephaly and brachycephaly; no therapy, repositioning therapy, and adjustable banding, which may be referred to as dynamic orthotic cranioplasty (DOC). Repositioning therapy includes supervised "tummy time," or placement of the child in a half supine position with a towel or blanket roll behind the shoulder to position the occiput away from the flat side. Physical therapy may also be recommended, particularly if there is shortening or tightening of the sternocleidomastoid muscle. Adjustable banding involves use of a custom-molded orthotic, either a helmet or band that can progressively mold the shape of the cranium by applying corrective forces to the frontal and occipital prominences while leaving room for growth in the adjacent flattened areas. Treatment is typically initiated around 5 to 6 months of age, frequently after a prior trial of repositioning therapy, and continues for an average of 4 to 5 months. Both helmets and cranial bands are recommended for wear 23 hours per day, with 1 hour off for skin care and hygiene. There has been no benefit shown for children past 24 months of age.
Studies are limited, the one and only RCT states: The investigators concluded, based on the equal effectiveness of helmet therapy and skull deformation following its natural course, high prevalence of side effects, and high costs associated with helmet therapy, we discourage the use of a helmet as a standard treatment for healthy infants with moderate to severe skull deformation.
Taking into consideration the limited number of publications over the past decade and the likelihood of both study and publication bias in uncontrolled studies, the scientific literature does not support an effect of deformational plagiocephaly on functional health outcomes. Helmet therapy has been shown to influence the rate of improvement of asymmetry but not its final outcome.
There is a lack of studies that prove non-synostosis plagiocephaly causes functional impairments. The one completed randomized clinical trial concluded that helmet therapy is not superior to natural courses of therapy. The results suggest that in a practical setting, effectiveness of a cranial orthoses may not differ from the natural course of development for infants with moderate to severe plagiocephaly and brachycephaly. Infants with very severe plagiocephaly is not addressed by this study. The correction of plagiocephaly in the absence of synostosis, also called positional plagiocephaly, is considered not medically necessary.
Wellmark medical policies address the complex issue of technology assessment of new and emerging treatments, devices, drugs, etc. They are developed to assist in administering plan benefits and constitute neither offers of coverage nor medical advice. Wellmark medical policies contain only a partial, general description of plan or program benefits and do not constitute a contract. Wellmark does not provide health care services and, therefore, cannot guarantee any results or outcomes. Participating providers are independent contractors in private practice and are neither employees nor agents of Wellmark or its affiliates. Treating providers are solely responsible for medical advice and treatment of members. Our medical policies may be updated and therefore are subject to change without notice.
*CPT® is a registered trademark of the American Medical Association.