Activities performed and treatments conducted before consultation with a spine surgeon: are patients and clinicians following evidence-based clinical practice guidelines?

Spine J. 2018 Apr;18(4):614-619. doi: 10.1016/j.spinee.2017.08.259. Epub 2017 Sep 4.


Background context: Clinical practice guidelines (CPGs) are designed to ensure that evidence-based treatment is easily put into action. Whether patients and clinicians follow these guidelines is equivocal.

Purpose: The objectives of this study were to examine how many patients complaining of low back pain (LBP) underwent evidence-based medical interventional treatment in line with CPG recommendations before consultation with a spine surgeon, and to evaluate any associations between adherence to CPG recommendations and baseline factors.

Study design/setting: This is a cross-sectional cohort analysis at a tertiary care center.

Patient sample: A total of 229 patients were referred for surgical consultation for an elective lumbar spinal condition.

Outcome measures: The outcome measures include the number of CPG-recommended treatments undertaken by patients at or before the time of referral, the validated pain score, the EuroQol-5D (EQ-5D) health status, and the Oswestry Disability Index (ODI) score.

Methods: Questionnaires assessing demographic and functional characteristics as well as overall health care use were sent to patients immediately after their referral was received by the surgeon's office.

Results: Medications were the most common modality before consultation (74.2% of patients), of which 46.3% received opioids. The number of medications taken was significantly related to a higher ODI score (R=0.23, p=.0004), a higher pain score (R=0.15, p=.026), and a lower EQ-5D health status (R=-0.15, p=.024). In contrast, a lower pain score (7.2 vs. 7.7, p=.037) and a lower ODI score (26.6 vs. 29.9, p=.0023) were associated with performing adequate amounts of exercise. There was a significant association between lower numbers of treatments received and higher numerical pain rating scores (R=-0.14, p=.035). The majority (61.1%) of patients received two or less forms of treatment.

Conclusions: Evidence-based medical interventional treatments for patients with LBP are not being taken advantage of before spine surgery consultation. If more patients were to undertake CPG-endorsed conservative modalities, it may result in fewer unnecessary referrals from primary care physicians, and patients might not deteriorate as much while lingering on long wait lists. Further studies incorporating knowledge translation or health system pathway changes are necessary.

Keywords: Allied health; Chiropractor; Clinical practice guideline; Exercise; Low back pain; Massage therapy; Opioids; Physiotherapist; Use; Yoga.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Elective Surgical Procedures / methods*
  • Elective Surgical Procedures / standards
  • Evidence-Based Practice / standards*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lumbosacral Region / surgery
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Referral and Consultation / standards*
  • Spinal Diseases / surgery*
  • Surgeons / standards
  • Surveys and Questionnaires