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Feasibility of physiotherapist-led rheumatology triage: A randomized study.

OBJECTIVE: Given global shortages in the rheumatology workforce, the demand for rheumatology assessment often exceeds the capacity to provide timely access to care. Accurate triage of patient referrals is important to ensure appropriate utilization of finite resources. We assessed the feasibility of physiotherapist-led triage utilizing a standardized protocol, in identifying cases of inflammatory arthritis (IA), as compared to usual rheumatologist triage of referrals for joint pain, in a tertiary care rheumatology clinic.

METHODS: We performed a single-center, prospective, non-blinded, randomized, parallel-group feasibility study with referrals randomized in a 1:1 ratio to either physiotherapist-led versus usual rheumatologist triage. Standardized information was collected at referral receipt, triage, and clinic visit. Rheumatologist diagnosis was considered the gold-standard for diagnosis of IA.

RESULTS: 102 referrals were randomized to the physiotherapist-led triage arm and 101 to the rheumatologist arm. In the physiotherapist-led arm, 65 percent of referrals triaged as urgent were confirmed to have IA versus 60 percent in the rheumatologist arm (p=0.57) suggesting similar accuracy in identifying IA. More referrals were declined in the physiotherapist-led triage arm 24 versus 8 (p=0.002) resulting in less referrals triaged as semi-urgent 6 versus 23 (p < 0.003). One case of IA (rheumatologist arm) was incorrectly triaged, resulting in significant delay in time to first assessment.

CONCLUSION: Physiotherapist-led triage was feasible, appeared as reliable as rheumatologist triage of referrals for joint pain, and lead to significantly fewer patients requiring in-clinic visits.

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