Patient preferences for technical skills versus interpersonal skills in chiropractors and physiotherapists treating low back pain

Fam Pract. 2013 Apr;30(2):197-203. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cms066. Epub 2012 Nov 1.


Background: Little is known about which characteristics of chiropractors and physiotherapists matter to patients and influence their preferences when seeking care.

Objective: To examine the impact of four factors (patient gender, practitioner gender, practitioner specialty-chiropractor or physiotherapist and practitioner reputation-technical ability or interpersonal skills) on patients' choice of therapist to treat low back pain.

Methods: Questionnaire-based vignette study in which participants sampled from the general population rated the likelihood of consulting eight fictional therapists. Each fictional therapist represented a different combination of the three practitioner factors (e.g. male chiropractor with reputation for good technical ability). The study was administered as a postal survey to a simple random sample of residences in one postal town in England.

Results: Respondents (n = 657) consistently reported that they considered a practitioner's qualifications and technical skills important when choosing either a physiotherapist or a chiropractor; and just less than a third thought it was important that a practitioner was a good listener. As hypothesized, female respondents preferred female practitioners and respondents had a general preference for physiotherapists over chiropractors. Contrary to our hypothesis, the practitioner's reputation had the largest effect on respondents' preferences and all practitioners with a reputation for technical ability were preferred over those with a reputation for interpersonal skills.

Conclusion: Similar factors are important to patients whether they are choosing an individual chiropractor or physiotherapist; patients particularly value information about technical competence. An awareness of these factors should help primary care providers to direct patients to relevant information and support their decision-making.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Chiropractic*
  • Clinical Competence*
  • England
  • Female
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / therapy*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Preference / psychology*
  • Patient Preference / statistics & numerical data
  • Physical Therapists*
  • Professional-Patient Relations*
  • Sex Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult