Study design: Quasi-experimental, nonrandomized, nonequivalent, parallel group-controlled study involving before and after telephone surveys of the general population and postal surveys of general practitioners was conducted, with an adjacent state used as a control group.
Objectives: To evaluate the effectiveness of a population-based intervention designed to alter beliefs about back pain, influence medical management, and reduce disability and workers' compensation-related costs.
Summary of background data: A multimedia campaign begun during 1997 in Victoria, Australia, positively advised patients with back pain to stay active and exercise, not to rest for prolonged periods, and to remain at work.
Methods: The campaign's impact on population beliefs about back pain and fear-avoidance beliefs was measured in telephone surveys, and the effect of the campaign on the potential management of low back pain by general practitioners was assessed by eliciting their likely approach to two hypothetical scenarios in mailed surveys. Demographically identical population groups in Victoria and the control state, New South Wales, were surveyed at three times: before, during, and after intervention in Victoria.
Results: The studies were completed by 4730 individuals in the general population and 2556 general practitioners. There were large statistically significant improvements in back pain beliefs over time in Victoria (mean scores on the Back Beliefs Questionnaire, 26.5, 28.4, and 29.7), but not in New South Wales (26.3, 26.2, and 26.3, respectively). Among those who reported back pain during the previous year, fear-avoidance beliefs about physical activity improved significantly in Victoria (mean scores on the Fear-Avoidance Beliefs Questionnaire for physical activity, 14, 12.5, and 11.6), but not in New South Wales (13.3, 13.6, and 12.7, respectively). General practitioners in Victoria reported significant improvements over time in beliefs about back pain management, as compared with their interstate colleagues. There were statistically significant interactions between state and time for 7 of 10 responses on management of acute low back pain, and for 6 of 10 responses on management of subacute low back pain.
Conclusion: A population-based strategy of providing positive messages about back pain improves the beliefs of the general population and general practitioners about back pain and appears to influence medical management.