Adherence of Irish general practitioners to European guidelines for acute low back pain: a prospective pilot study

Brona M Fullen, Thomas Maher, Gerard Bury, Aodan Tynan, Leslie E Daly, Deirdre A Hurley
European Journal of Pain: EJP 2007, 11 (6): 614-23
There are no national low back pain (LBP) clinical guidelines in Ireland, and neither the level of adherence of General Practitioners (GPs) to the European guidelines, nor the cost of LBP to the patient and the state, have been investigated. A prospective pilot study was conducted on 54 consenting patients (18M, 36F: mean age (SD): 40.5 (14.3) years) with a new episode of acute LBP (<3 months) attending one of nine participating GPs. Baseline demographic, LBP classification [i.e. simple back ache (SBA), nerve root pain (NRP), serious spinal pathology (SSP)] and primary care management data were recorded over a three month period. Adherence and costs were estimated based on: medication prescription, referral for investigations, treatment or consultations, and wage replacement costs (time signed off work). For both SBA and NRP, medication prescriptions were consistent with European guideline recommendations, but not for referral for further treatment (39% of SBA patients were referred on first visit), secondary care (54% of NRP patients were referred on first visit), or discontinuation of work (50% NRP patients on first GP visit). The average total cost (direct and wage replacement) for a single episode of LBP over 12 weeks was 20,531 Euros (20,300-20,762). Direct costs accounted for 43% [8874.36 Euros, (8643.37-9105.37 Euros)] and wage replacement costs 57% (11,657 Euros). In conclusion, management of acute LBP in a cohort of GPs in Ireland was not consistent with European clinical guideline recommendations, and warrants higher levels of postgraduate education among GPs, as well as restructuring of primary care services, which should improve patient outcome and reduce costs.

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