The Clinical Effectiveness of the Extended-Scope Physiotherapist Role in Musculoskeletal Triage: A Systematic Review

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Extended-scope physiotherapists (ESPs) are working in musculoskeletal (MSK) triage clinics to assess, diagnose and refer patients for appropriate management. However, there is inadequate appraisal of their clinical effectiveness.


The aim of the present systematic review was to appraise the evidence on the diagnostic ability of ESPs in MSK triage, and patient and general practitioner (GP) satisfaction when seen by an ESP in a MSK clinic.


CINAHL, AMED, MEDLINE and EMBASE databases were searched from 1989 to February 2014 using the keywords ‘physiotherapy’, ‘extended practitioner’ and ‘musculoskeletal disease’. Data extraction was compiled using the Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (2009) method. Diagnostic accuracy studies were assessed for methodological quality using the Scottish Intercollegiate Guideline Network (SIGN). Patient/GP satisfaction was assessed using a tool adapted by Desmeules et al. (2012).


From 146 studies initially identified, 14 were eligible for review. Only one diagnostic study was of high quality, and satisfaction study scores ranged from 40% to 73%. All studies reported favourable outcomes for ESPs in MSK triage clinics, with ESPs demonstrating a good level of diagnostic ability in comparison with a gold standard such as surgery. In addition, patients and GPs were satisfied with the overall performance and service provided by ESPs.


The evidence suggests that ESPs are clinically effective. However, there were methodological shortcomings in the reviewed studies, and further research, using larger sample sizes, multiple locations and comparisons of the same patient cohorts, would strengthen the evidence available to influence future commissioning of these services. Copyright © 2015 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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