The Inter-professional Spine Assessment and Education Clinics (ISAEC) were developed to improve primary care assessment, education and management of patients with persistent or recurrent low back pain–related symptoms. This study aims to determine the effect of ISAEC on access for surgical assessment, referral appropriateness and efficiency for patients meeting a priori referral criteria in rural, urban and metropolitan settings.Methods
We conducted a retrospective review of prospective data from networked ISAEC clinics in Thunder Bay, Hamilton and Toronto, Ontario. For patients meeting surgical referral criteria, wait times for surgical assessment, surgical referral–related magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and appropriateness of referral were recorded.Results
Overall 422 patients, representing 10% of all ISAEC patients in the study period, were referred for surgical assessment. The average wait times for surgical assessment were 5.4, 4.3 and 2.2 weeks at the metropolitan, urban and rural centres, respectively. Referral MRI usage for the group decreased by 31%. Of the patients referred for formal surgical assessment, 80% had leg-dominant pain and 96% were deemed appropriate surgical referrals.Conclusion
Contrary to geographic concentration of health care resources in metropolitan settings, the greatest decrease in wait times was achieved in the rural setting. A networked, shared-cared model of care for patients with low back pain–related symptoms significantly improved access for surgical assessment despite varying geographic practice settings and barriers. The greatest reductions were noted in the rural setting. In addition, significant improvements in referral appropriateness and efficiency were achieved compared with historical reports across all sites.