Patient preferences for technical skills versus interpersonal skills in chiropractors and physiotherapists treating low back pain

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Abstract

Background.

Little is known about which characteristics of chiropractors and physiotherapists matter to patients and influence their preferences when seeking care.

Objective.

To examine the impact of four factors (patient gender, practitioner gender, practitioner specialty—chiropractor or physiotherapist and practitioner reputation—technical ability or interpersonal skills) on patients’ choice of therapist to treat low back pain.

Methods.

Questionnaire-based vignette study in which participants sampled from the general population rated the likelihood of consulting eight fictional therapists. Each fictional therapist represented a different combination of the three practitioner factors (e.g. male chiropractor with reputation for good technical ability). The study was administered as a postal survey to a simple random sample of residences in one postal town in England.

Results.

Respondents (n = 657) consistently reported that they considered a practitioner’s qualifications and technical skills important when choosing either a physiotherapist or a chiropractor; and just less than a third thought it was important that a practitioner was a good listener. As hypothesized, female respondents preferred female practitioners and respondents had a general preference for physiotherapists over chiropractors. Contrary to our hypothesis, the practitioner’s reputation had the largest effect on respondents’ preferences and all practitioners with a reputation for technical ability were preferred over those with a reputation for interpersonal skills.

Conclusion.

Similar factors are important to patients whether they are choosing an individual chiropractor or physiotherapist; patients particularly value information about technical competence. An awareness of these factors should help primary care providers to direct patients to relevant information and support their decision-making.

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