Objective: The diagnosis of AS is often delayed in primary care. This may partly be due to inability to differentiate inflammatory back pain (IBP) from mechanical. The aim of this study was to assess current practice of general practitioners (GPs) in using clinical, radiological and laboratory investigations to assess patients with IBP.
Methods: A postal questionnaire was sent to all GPs in Norfolk. It was designed to test GPs ability to identify symptoms suggestive of IBP in patients with back pain. It also enquired whether GPs considered other features of SpA. Their perceptions of usefulness of various investigations when considering a diagnosis of AS, management and their unmet needs were recorded.
Results: A total of 62% of completed questionnaires were returned. Only 5% of GPs could identify all eight features known to be indicative of IBP, 78% between four and eight and 17% identified less than four features. GPs had a range of views regarding the utility of a positive family history, HLA-B27, use of X-ray and physiotherapy in patients with suspected IBP. GPs awareness of the associated features of SpA was low. There were inconsistencies in the use of diagnostic tests and management of AS. Improving musculoskeletal education in primary care was identified as one of the unmet needs by the majority of GPs.
Conclusions: In a survey of GPs, we identified inconsistencies in their perceptions and approach to the diagnosis and management of AS. Education in primary care and the wider use of diagnostic algorithms may improve early detection and hence outcome of AS.