Expanding roles in orthopaedic care: a comparison of physiotherapist and orthopaedic surgeon recommendations for triage

J Eval Clin Pract. 2009 Feb;15(1):178-83. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2753.2008.00979.x.


Rationale, aims and objectives: Innovative service delivery models are emerging using physiotherapists in the assessment and management of patients referred for orthopaedic consultation. The primary objective of this study was to compare the clinical recommendations of specially trained physiotherapists with those of an orthopaedic surgeon on: (1) appropriateness to be seen by an orthopaedic surgeon; and (2) candidacy and willingness to undergo total joint replacement (TJR) for patients with hip or knee problems. A secondary objective was to examine their recommendations for non-surgical management and agreement on clinical diagnosis.

Methods: Physiotherapists and orthopaedic surgeons independently assessed patients with hip and knee problems referred for consideration for TJR and completed a standardized form on treatment recommendations. Agreement between providers was determined using the kappa coefficient and per cent agreement.

Results: Two physiotherapists and three orthopaedic surgeons participated in the study that included 45 and 17 patients with knee and hip problems respectively. In 91.8% (56/61) of cases, physiotherapists and orthopaedic surgeons agreed on the recommendation of appropriateness for the patient to see a surgeon (kappa 0.69). In discordant cases, the physiotherapists tended to refer for consultation. There was 85.5% (53/62) agreement on whether a patient was a candidate and willing to have TJR (kappa 0.70). The physiotherapists commonly recommended exercise and education for non-surgical patients. Orthopaedic surgeons most commonly referred patients to rehabilitation services.

Conclusions: Patients with hip or knee pain referred to orthopaedic surgeons can be appropriately referred for orthopaedic consultation by physiotherapists working in extended roles. Further research is required to evaluate the value-added and the most appropriate use of extended role physiotherapists.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Arthroplasty, Replacement, Hip
  • Arthroplasty, Replacement, Knee
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ontario
  • Orthopedics*
  • Physical Therapy Specialty*
  • Physicians*
  • Professional Role*
  • Referral and Consultation / standards
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Triage* / standards