Evaluation of an advanced-practice physiotherapist in triaging patients with lumbar spine pain: surgeon–physiotherapist level of agreement and patient satisfaction

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Abstract

Background

Surgery for lumbar spine pain is indicated for specific etiologies. Given the majority of individuals referred to spine surgeons are not surgical candidates, care delivery is inefficient, with consultations being of limited value for most. Using specially trained physiotherapists in triage is a human resource strategy that may optimize surgeons’ time and the patient experience.

Methods

An advanced-practice physiotherapist (APP) and a surgeon assessed consecutive patients with lumbar spine pain presenting at an academic health centre’s spine surgery clinic. The second assessor was blinded to the outcome of the first. We used the κ statistic to evaluate surgeon–APP level of chance-corrected agreement concerning patients’ need for a surgical consultation. To assess satisfaction with the APP, patients completed a modified version of the validated Visit-specific Questionnaire.

Results

The sample included 102 participants (54 women) with a mean age of 54.3 ± 14.3 years and a mean Oswestry Disability Index score of 35.4 ± 16.6. The assessors’ overall agreement was 86%. The κ coefficient for the need for a surgical consultation was 0.69 (95% confidence interval 0.54–0.84). The APP identified that 77% of patients did not require a surgical consultation. Twenty-one patients underwent surgery. Satisfaction scores for the APP were very high (mean score 92 out of 100).

Conclusion

In triaging patients with lumbar spine pain, the APP and surgeon had a high level of agreement. An APP performing triage at a surgical centre can effectively reduce wait lists by 70%, reserving surgical consultations for those patients in whom they are indicated.

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