Musculoskeletal clinic in general practice: study of one year's referrals

D Peters, P Davies, P Pietroni
British Journal of General Practice 1994, 44 (378): 25-9

BACKGROUND: A musculoskeletal clinic, staffed by a general practitioner trained in osteopathy, medical acupuncture and intralesional injections, was set up in an inner London general practice in 1987.

AIM: A retrospective study was undertaken of one year's referrals to the clinic in 1989-90 to determine how general practitioners were using the clinic in terms of problems referred; consultation patterns of patients attending the clinic and 12 months after initially being seen; and how access to the clinic influenced referrals to relevant hospital departments.

METHOD: Day sheets were studied which recorded information on demographic characteristics of patients referred to the clinic and their problems, diagnoses made, duration of symptoms, number and range of treatments given, and recurrence of problems. Use of secondary referral sources was also examined.

RESULTS: During the study year 154 of 3264 practice patients were referred to the musculoskeletal clinic, and attended a mean of 3.5 times each. Of all the attenders 64% were women and 52% were 30-54 years old. Eighty one patients (53%) presented with neck, back or sciatic pain. A specific traumatic, inflammatory or other pathological process could be ascribed to only 19% of patients. Regarding treatment, 88% of patients received osteopathic manual treatment or acupuncture, or a combination of these treatments and 4% received intralesional injections. Nine patients from the clinic (6%) were referred to an orthopaedic specialist during the year, two with acute back pain. Referrals to orthopaedic specialists by the practice as a whole were not significantly lower than the national average, although the practice made fewer referrals to physiotherapy and rheumatology departments than national figures would have predicted. Seventeen patients (11%) returned to the clinic with a recurrence of their main complaint within a year of their initial appointment; second courses of treatment were usually brief.

CONCLUSION: The clinic encouraged a relatively low referral rate to musculoskeletal specialists outside the practice. However, a need was identified for better communication about the potential of the approaches used in order that referrals to secondary specialists, particularly orthopaedic specialists, could be further reduced.

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