More cost-effective management of patients with musculoskeletal disorders in primary care after direct triaging to physiotherapists for initial assessment compared to initial general practitioner assessment

BMC Musculoskelet Disord. 2019 May 1;20(1):186. doi: 10.1186/s12891-019-2553-9.


Background: A model for triaging patients in primary care to provide immediate contact with the most appropriate profession to treat the condition in question has been developed and implemented in parts of Sweden. Direct triaging of patients with musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) to physiotherapists at primary healthcare centres has been proposed as an alternative to initial assessment by general practitioners (GPs) and has been shown to have many positive effects. The aim of this study was to evaluate the cost-effectiveness from the societal perspective of this new care-pathway through primary care regarding triaging patients with MSD to initial assessment by physiotherapists compared to standard practice with initial GP assessment.

Methods: Nurse-assessed patients with MSD (N = 55) were randomised to initial assessment and treatment with either physiotherapists or GPs and were followed for 1 year regarding health-related quality of life, utilization of healthcare resources and absence from work for MSD. Quality-adjusted life-years (QALYs) were calculated based on EQ5D measured at 5 time-points. Costs for healthcare resources and production loss were compiled. Incremental cost-effectiveness ratios (ICERS) were calculated. Multiple imputation was used to compensate for missing values and bootstrapping to handle uncertainty. A cost-effectiveness plane and a cost-effectiveness acceptability curve were construed to describe the results.

Results: The group who were allocated to initial assessment by physiotherapists had slightly larger gains in QALYs at lower total costs. At a willingness-to-pay threshold of 20,000 €, the likelihood that the intervention was cost-effective from a societal perspective including production loss due to MSD was 85% increasing to 93% at higher thresholds. When only healthcare costs were considered, triaging to physiotherapists was still less costly in relation to health improvements than standard praxis.

Conclusion: From the societal perspective, this small study indicated that triaging directly to physiotherapists in primary care has a high likelihood of being cost-effective. However, further larger randomised trials will be necessary to corroborate these findings.

Trial registration: NCT02218749 . Registered August 18, 2014.

Keywords: Cost-benefit analysis; Musculoskeletal disorders; Physiotherapy; Primary care; Triage.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cost-Benefit Analysis / statistics & numerical data*
  • Critical Pathways / economics
  • Critical Pathways / organization & administration
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • General Practitioners / economics
  • General Practitioners / statistics & numerical data
  • Health Care Costs / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / diagnosis
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / psychology
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / therapy*
  • Nurses / economics
  • Nurses / statistics & numerical data
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Physical Therapists / economics
  • Physical Therapists / statistics & numerical data
  • Primary Health Care / economics*
  • Primary Health Care / organization & administration
  • Quality of Life
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years
  • Sweden
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Triage / economics*
  • Triage / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult

Associated data