Objective: The effect of clinical guidelines on resource utilization for complex conditions with substantial barriers to clinician behavior change has not been well studied. We report the impact of a multifaceted guideline implementation intervention on primary care clinician utilization of radiologic and specialty services for the care of acute low back pain.
Design: Physician groups were randomized to receive guideline education and individual feedback, supporting patient education materials, both, or neither. The impact on guideline adherence and resource utilization was evaluated during the 12-month period before and after implementation.
Participants: Fourteen physician groups with 120 primary care physician and associate practitioners from 2 group model HMO practices.
Interventions: Guideline implementation utilized an education/audit/feedback model with local peer opinion leaders. The patient education component included written and videotaped materials on the care of low back pain.
Main results: The clinician intervention was associated with an absolute increase in guideline-consistent behavior of 5.4% in the intervention group versus a decline of 2.7% in the control group (P =.04). The patient education intervention produced no significant change in guideline-consistent behavior, but was poorly adopted. Patient characteristics including duration of pain, prior history of low back pain, and number of visits during the illness episode were strong predictors of service utilization and guideline-consistent behavior.
Conclusions: Implementation of an education and feedback-supported acute low back pain care guideline for primary care clinicians was associated with an increase in guideline-consistent behavior. Patient education materials did not enhance guideline effectiveness. Implementation barriers could limit the utility of this approach in usual care settings.