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Savings in targeted care for back pain

30 September 2011

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GPs can “substantially” reduce healthcare costs by removing a “one size fits all” treatment to back pain, researchers suggest.

By providing more targeted treatment for back pain, which is dependent on the severity of the condition, can mean “important benefits” for patients.

Research published in The Lancet says current care in primary care settings, such as advice, painkillers or physiotherapist referrals is based on “inefficient and inconsistent intuition”.

Over 1500 adults with back pain who attended consultations at ten general practices across England responded to invitations to be included in the study.

Of them, 851 were assigned to the intervention. 283 patients were treated normally and 568 were assessed as having low, medium or high risk of long-term back pain.

Low-risk patients were given advice by a physiotherapist and medium-risk patients received intensive physiotherapy. High-risk patients had physiotherapy and help to overcome psychological barriers to recovery, which can occur in chronic conditions.

After a year, it was found that the targeted groups showed “significantly more improvement” than the traditional treatment group.

Researchers claim an average saving of £30 per patient could be made using the targeted treatment approach.

“The problem for GPs and other health professionals is spotting who, among the patients they see with back pain, is likely to get better with simple advice and reassurance, and who might benefit from further treatment from a physiotherapist,” lead researcher Professor Elaine Hay of Keele University told the BBC.

She said 50 centres in the UK had already adopted the new approach.

“The data shows that it is having a substantial beneficial impact where it is being implemented,” she added.

The study was funded by Arthritis Research UK.