Is establishing a specialist back pain assessment and management service in primary care a safe and effective model? Twelve-month results from the Back pain Assessment Clinic (BAC) prospective cohort pilot study

BMJ Open. 2018 Oct 10;8(10):e019275. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-019275.


Objectives: To report on the design, implementation and evaluation of the safety and effectiveness of the Back pain Assessment Clinic (BAC) model.

Design: BAC is a new, community-based specialist service for assessing and managing neck and low back pain (LBP). The BAC pilot was supported by a Victorian Department of Health and Human Services grant and was evaluated using the Victorian Innovation Reform Impact Assessment Framework (VIRIAF). Data were obtained by auditing BAC activity (22 July 2014 to 30 June 2015) and conducting surveys and interviews of patients, stakeholders and referrers.

Setting: Tertiary and primary care.

Participants: Adult patients with neck and LBP referred for outpatient surgical consultation.

Main outcome measures: VIRIAF outcomes: (1) access to care; (2) appropriate and safe care; (3) workforce optimisation and integration; and (4) efficiency and sustainability.

Results: A total of 522 patients were seen during the pilot. Most were referred to hospital services by general practitioners (87%) for LBP (63%) and neck pain (24%). All patients were seen within 10 weeks of referral and commenced community-based allied health intervention within 2-4 weeks of assessment in BAC. Of patients seen, 34% had medications adjusted, 57% were referred for physiotherapy, 3.2% to pain services, 1.1% to rheumatology and 1.8% for surgical review. Less MRI scans were ordered in BAC (6.4%) compared with traditional spinal surgical clinics (89.8%), which translated to a cost-saving of $52 560 over 12 months. Patient and staff satisfaction was high. There have been no patient complaints or adverse incidents.

Conclusion: Evaluation of the BAC pilot suggests it is a potentially safe and cost-saving alternative model of care. Results of the BAC pilot merit further evaluation to determine the potential cost-effectiveness, longer term and broader societal impact of implementing BAC more widely.

Keywords: back pain; health economics; rheumatology.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Australia
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / economics
  • Low Back Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neck Pain / economics
  • Neck Pain / rehabilitation*
  • Pain Clinics*
  • Pain Measurement
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Pilot Projects
  • Primary Health Care*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Surveys and Questionnaires