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Volume of ambulatory care visits and patterns of care for patients diagnosed with plantar fasciitis: a national study of medical doctors.

BACKGROUND: Plantar fasciitis is a relatively common disorder of the foot, yet little is known about its prevalence, what types of physicians see patients with the disorder, or how, on a national scale, patients are typically managed. The purpose of this study was to generate national estimates of the volume of patient visits and characteristics of care given to patients diagnosed with plantar fasciitis by medical doctors.

METHODS: Data from the National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS) and the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS) for the years 1995-2000 were studied. These are multistage probability sample surveys of visits to office-based physicians (NAMCS) and visits to nonfederal, short-stay, and general hospitals (NHAMCS) to consult doctors of medicine and doctors of osteopathy. Sample data have been weighted to produce national estimates. Data describing the number of patient visits for plantar fasciitis and the characteristics of the care given during those visits were summarized using univariate analyses. Data were combined for the 6-year period to increase the reliability of the estimates, and figures are presented as annual averages.

RESULTS: Approximately 1 million patient visits per year were made to office-based physicians and hospital outpatient departments for the diagnosis and treatment of plantar fasciitis during 1995-2000. Approximately 62% of all visits were made to primary care practitioners, and 31% were made to orthopaedic surgeons. Patient visits for plantar fasciitis accounted for approximately 1% of all patient visits to orthopedic surgeons. Pain medication, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), was the most frequently used intervention (47% of visits). Exercise counseling was cited at 26% of visits, and physical therapy was ordered or provided at 19% of visits.

CONCLUSIONS: This research suggests that plantar fasciitis is a relatively common disorder that is seen by several physician specialties. The disorder is not managed in a consistent way. Rather, there appears to be a large amount of variation in the way that these patients are managed. These findings support the argument that additional research is needed to identify effective interventions for plantar fasciitis and to determine if physician specialty influences treatment outcome.

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