Patient Characteristics and Patterns of Use for Lumbar Spine Radiographs: Results from the Veterans Health Study

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Study Design.Longitudinal data from the Veterans Health Study, an observational study of male patients receiving Veterans Administration ambulatory care, were analyzed.Objective.To identify patient characteristics that predict different patterns in the use of lumbar spine radiographs.Summary and Background Data.In this study, 401 patients with low back pain receiving ambulatory care services in four Veterans Administration outpatient clinics in the greater Boston area were followed for 12 months.Methods.Participants were mailed the Medical Outcome Study Short Form Health Survey and participated in scheduled interviews that included the completion of a low back questionnaire, a comorbidity index, and a straight leg raising test. Four groups of patients were defined according to the patterns of use for lumbar spine radiographs: prior use, repeat use, no use, and new use of lumbar spine radiographs. These groups were compared in terms of sociodemographics, comorbid conditions, low back pain intensity, radiating leg pain, straight leg raising, Medical Outcome Study Short Form Health Survey scores, and low back disability days.Results.The patients with new lumbar spine radiographs showed worse physical and psychological distress than the participants in the other three groups. In contrast, the patients with no lumbar spine radiographs reported minor physical impairment. Compared with patients who had no repeat radiographs, patients with repeat lumbar spine radiographs had similar scores on physical health, but they showed worse scores of mental health.Conclusions.Both physical and psychological factors contribute to having new radiographic examinations, whereas psychological factors have increased importance in the repeat use of roentgenographic examinations. Repeat radiographs appear to be overused, judging by the severity of physical impairment as measured by low back pain intensity, the Medical OutcomeStudy Short Form Health Survey, and disability days.

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