The Use of a Self-Administered Questionnaire to Reduce Consultation Wait Times for Potential Elective Lumbar Spinal Surgical Candidates: A Prospective, Pragmatic, Blinded, Randomized Controlled Quality Improvement Study

J Bone Joint Surg Am. 2018 Dec 19;100(24):2125-2131. doi: 10.2106/JBJS.18.00423.


Background: In a public health-care system, patients often experience lengthy wait times to see a spine surgeon for consultation, and most patients are found not to be surgical candidates, thereby prolonging the wait time for those who are. The aim of this study was to evaluate whether a self-administered 3-item questionnaire (3IQ) could reprioritize consultation appointments and reduce wait times for lumbar spinal surgical candidates.

Methods: This prospective, pragmatic, blinded, randomized controlled quality improvement study was conducted at a single Canadian academic health-care center. This study enrolled 227 consecutive eligible participants with an elective lumbar condition who were referred for consultation with a spine surgeon. All participants were mailed the 3IQ after their referral was received. Patients were randomized into the intervention group, in which leg-dominant pain reported on the 3IQ resulted in an upgrade in priority to be seen, or into the control group, in which no change to wait-list priority occurred. The main outcome measured was time to consultation for participants who were deemed surgical candidates following consultation.

Results: There were no significant differences between groups with regard to demographics, overall group wait times, proportion of surgical candidates, or disability. A total of 33 patients were deemed surgical candidates after consultation. The median wait from referral to consultation was shorter for the 16 surgical candidates in the intervention group (2.5 months; interquartile range [IQR]: 2.0 to 4.8 months) compared with the 17 surgical candidates in the control group (4.5 months; IQR: 3.4 to 6.9 months; p = 0.090). The odds of seeing a surgical candidate within the acceptable time frame of 3 months were 5.4 times greater (95% confidence interval: 1.2 to 24.5 times; p = 0.024) in the intervention group.

Conclusions: The use of a simple, self-administered questionnaire to reprioritize referrals resulted in shorter consultation wait times for patients who required a surgical procedure and significantly increased the number of surgical candidates seen within the acceptable time frame. It may be valuable to consider adding the 3IQ to clinical care practices to better triage these patients on waiting lists.

Publication types

  • Pragmatic Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Elective Surgical Procedures / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Low Back Pain / surgery*
  • Lumbar Vertebrae / surgery*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Ontario
  • Orthopedic Procedures / statistics & numerical data*
  • Procedures and Techniques Utilization
  • Prospective Studies
  • Quality Improvement*
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Surveys and Questionnaires / statistics & numerical data
  • Triage / statistics & numerical data
  • Waiting Lists