Background: As the proportion of the Canadian population > or =65 grows, so too does the prevalence of musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions. Approximately 20% of visits to family physicians occur as a result of MSK complaints. The GALS (Gait, Arms, Legs, and Spine) screening examination was developed to assist in the detection of MSK abnormalities. Although MSK exams are primarily performed by rheumatologists or other MSK specialists, expanding their use in primary health care may improve the detection of MSK conditions allowing for earlier treatment. The primary goal of this study was to evaluate the use of the GALS locomotor screen in primary care by comparing the results of assessments of family physicians with those of rheumatologists. The secondary goal was to examine the incidence of MSK disorders and assess the frequency with which new diagnoses not previously documented in patients' charts were identified.
Methods: Patients > or =65 years old recruited from an academic family health centre were examined by a rheumatologist and a family physician who recorded the appearance of each participant's gait and the appearance and movement of the arms, legs and spine by deeming them normal or abnormal. GALS scores were compared between physicians with the proportion of observed (Pobs), positive (Ppos) and negative (Pneg) agreement being the primary outcomes. Kappa statistics were also calculated. Descriptive statistics were used to describe the number of "new" diagnoses by comparing rheumatologists' findings with each patient's family practice chart.
Results: A total of 99 patients consented to participate (92 with previously diagnosed MSK conditions). Results showed reasonable agreement between family physicians and rheumatologists; Pobs = 0.698, Ppos = 0.614 and Pneg = 0.752. The coefficient of agreement (estimated Kappa) was 0.3675 for the composite GALS score. For individual components of the GALS exam, the highest agreement between family physicians and rheumatologists was in the assessment of gait and arm movement.
Conclusion: Previously reported increases in undiagnosed signs and symptoms of musculoskeletal conditions have highlighted the need for a simple yet sensitive screening exam for the identification of musculoskeletal abnormalities. Results of this study suggest that family physicians can efficiently use the GALS examination in the assessment of populations with a high proportion of musculoskeletal issues.