Study design: Correlation study.
Objectives: To assess the rates of lumbar disc surgery in North Jutland County, Denmark, before and after implementation of two nonsurgical spine clinics, and to compare the observed rates with those for the rest of Denmark in the same time periods.
Summary of background data: Few studies have addressed initiatives to reduce high rates of lumbar disc surgery by improving nonsurgical care offered to patients with sciatica and low back pain.
Methods: The study was conducted in North Jutland County, Denmark with 500,000 inhabitants (10% of the Danish population). In 1997, two nonsurgical spine clinics were established, along with an educational program for general practitioners. The clinics targeted patients with sciatica of 1 to 3 months' duration, with or without low back pain. Data on rates of lumbar disc surgery were obtained from the National Registry of Patients.
Results: The annual rate of lumbar disc operations for patients in North Jutland County decreased from approximately 60 to 80 per 100,000 before 1997 to 40 per 100,000 in 2001 (P = 0.00), and the rate of elective, first-time disc surgeries decreased by approximately two thirds (P = 0.00). In contrast, the annual rate of lumbar disc operations for patients in the rest of Denmark remained unchanged during the same period.
Conclusions: The implementation of multidisciplinary, nonsurgical spine clinics coincided closely with a significant reduction in the rate of lumbar disc surgery. The observed reduction seems most likely to be causally associated with educational activities and improved patient care provided by the clinics.