Patients' experiences of the management of lower back pain in general practice: use of diagnostic imaging, medication and provision of self-management advice

Mariko Carey, Heidi Turon, Stacy Goergen, Rob Sanson-Fisher, Sze Lin Yoong, Kay Jones
Australian Journal of Primary Health 2015, 21 (3): 342-6
Lower back pain is prevalent in the general community. Guidelines recommend against the use of diagnostic imaging unless 'red flags' are present that may indicate a potentially serious cause. This paper reports on a cross-sectional electronic survey to investigate self-reported experiences of lower back pain management among Australian general practice patients. Of the 872 participants, 551 (63%) reported that they had experienced lower back pain in the past 12 months. Approximately 40% of patients who had experienced lower back pain reported that they had consulted their general practitioner (GP) regarding this issue. Among those who sought general practice care, 67% reported being referred for diagnostic imaging. Those who received imaging were more likely to have been prescribed medication by their GP, but received self-management advice at the same rate as those who had not been referred. Rates of self-reported referral for diagnostic imaging were higher than expected, given the low prevalence of potentially serious causes for lower back pain reported in the international literature. However, it remains unclear whether this is due to poor guideline adherence by GPs or lack of specificity in the red flags identified in guidelines. Findings suggest the need for improvements in the provision of evidence-based self-management advice.

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