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Health effects of direct triaging to physiotherapists in primary care for patients with musculoskeletal disorders: a pragmatic randomized controlled trial

Journal article
Authors Lena Bornhöft
Maria E H Larsson
Lena Margareta Nordeman
Robert Eggertsen
Jörgen Thorn
Published in Therapeutic Advances in Musculoskeletal Disease
Volume 11
ISSN 1759-720X
Publication year 2019
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Health and Rehabilitation
Institute of Medicine, School of Public Health and Community Medicine
Institute of Medicine
Institute of Clinical Sciences
Language en
Keywords musculoskeletal disorders, physiotherapy, primary care, RCT, triage, low-back-pain, disability rating index, quality-of-life, physical-therapists, general-practice, management, validity, guidelines, implementation, perspectives, Rheumatology
Subject categories Rheumatology and Autoimmunity


Background: Physiotherapists and general practitioners (GPs) both act as primary assessors for patients with musculoskeletal disorders in primary care. Previous studies have shown that initial triaging to physiotherapists at primary healthcare centres has advantages regarding efficiency in the work environment and utilization of healthcare. In this study, we aimed primarily to determine whether triaging to physiotherapists affects the progression of health aspects over time differently than traditional management with initial GP assessment. The secondary aim was to determine whether triaging to physiotherapists affects patients' attitudes of responsibility for musculoskeletal disorders. Methods: This was a pragmatic trial where both recruitment and treatment strategies were determined by clinical, not study-related parameters, and was initiated at three primary care centres in Sweden. Working-age patients of both sexes seeking primary care for musculoskeletal disorders and nurse assessed as suitable for triaging to physiotherapists were randomized to initial consultations with either physiotherapists or GPs. They received self-assessment questionnaires before the initial consultation and were followed up at 2, 12, 26 and 52 weeks with the same questionnaires. Outcome measures were current and mean (3 months) pain intensities, functional disability, risk for developing chronic musculoskeletal pain, health-related quality of life and attitudes of responsibility for musculoskeletal conditions. Trends over time were analysed with a regression model for repeated measurements. Results: The physiotherapist-triaged group showed significant improvement for health-related quality of life at 26 weeks and showed consistent but nonsignificant tendencies to greater reductions of current pain, mean pain in the latest 3 months, functional disability and risk for developing chronic pain compared with traditional management. The triage model did not consistently affect patients' attitudes of responsibility for musculoskeletal disorders. Conclusions: Triaging to physiotherapists for primary assessment in primary care leads to at least as positive health effects as primary assessment by GPs and can be recommended as an alternative management pathway for patients with musculoskeletal disorders. identifier: NCT148611.

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