Predicting Likelihood of Surgery Before First Visit in Patients With Back and Lower Extremity Symptoms: A Simple Mathematical Model Based on More Than 8,000 Patients

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Study Design.Retrospective analysis of prospectively collected data.Objective.To create a data-driven triage system stratifying patients by likelihood of undergoing spinal surgery within 1 year of presentation.Summary of Background Data.Low back pain (LBP) and radicular lower extremity (LE) symptoms are common musculoskeletal problems. There is currently no standard data-derived triage process based on information that can be obtained before the initial physician-patient encounter to direct patients to the optimal physician type.Methods.We analyzed patient-reported data from 8006 patients with a chief complaint of low back pain and/or LE radicular symptoms who presented to surgeons at a large multidisciplinary spine center between September 1, 2005 and June 30, 2016. Univariate and multivariate analysis identified independent risk factors for undergoing spinal surgery within 1 year of initial visit. A model incorporating these risk factors was created using a random sample of 80% of the total patients in our cohort, and validated on the remaining 20%.Results.The baseline 1-year surgery rate within our cohort was 39% for all patients and 42% for patients with LE symptoms. Those identified as high likelihood by the center's existing triage process had a surgery rate of 45%. The new triage scoring system proposed in this study was able to identify a high likelihood group in which 58% underwent surgery, which is a 46% higher surgery rate than in nontriaged patients and a 29% improvement from our institution's existing triage system.Conclusion.The data-driven triage model and scoring system derived and validated in this study (Spine Surgery Likelihood-11), significantly improved existing processes in predicting the likelihood of undergoing spinal surgery within 1 year of initial presentation. This triage system will allow centers to more selectively screen for surgical candidates and more effectively direct patients to surgeons or nonoperative spine specialists.Level of Evidence: 4

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