Importance: Lumbar spine imaging frequently reveals findings that may seem alarming but are likely unrelated to pain. Prior work has suggested that inserting data on the prevalence of imaging findings among asymptomatic individuals into spine imaging reports may reduce unnecessary subsequent interventions.
Objective: To evaluate the impact of including benchmark prevalence data in routine spinal imaging reports on subsequent spine-related health care utilization and opioid prescriptions.
Design, setting, and participants: This stepped-wedge, pragmatic randomized clinical trial included 250 401 adult participants receiving care from 98 primary care clinics at 4 large health systems in the United States. Participants had imaging of their backs between October 2013 and September 2016 without having had spine imaging in the prior year. Data analysis was conducted from November 2018 to October 2019.
Interventions: Either standard lumbar spine imaging reports (control group) or reports containing age-appropriate prevalence data for common imaging findings in individuals without back pain (intervention group).
Main outcomes and measures: Health care utilization was measured in spine-related relative value units (RVUs) within 365 days of index imaging. The number of subsequent opioid prescriptions written by a primary care clinician was a secondary outcome, and prespecified subgroup analyses examined results by imaging modality.
Results: We enrolled 250 401 participants (of whom 238 886 [95.4%] met eligibility for this analysis, with 137 373 [57.5%] women and 105 497 [44.2%] aged >60 years) from 3278 primary care clinicians. A total of 117 455 patients (49.2%) were randomized to the control group, and 121 431 patients (50.8%) were randomized to the intervention group. There was no significant difference in cumulative spine-related RVUs comparing intervention and control conditions through 365 days. The adjusted median (interquartile range) RVU for the control group was 3.56 (2.71-5.12) compared with 3.53 (2.68-5.08) for the intervention group (difference, -0.7%; 95% CI, -2.9% to 1.5%; P = .54). Rates of subsequent RVUs did not differ between groups by specific clinical findings in the report but did differ by type of index imaging (eg, computed tomography: difference, -29.3%; 95% CI, -42.1% to -13.5%; magnetic resonance imaging: difference, -3.4%; 95% CI, -8.3% to 1.8%). We observed a small but significant decrease in the likelihood of opioid prescribing from a study clinician within 1 year of the intervention (odds ratio, 0.95; 95% CI, 0.91 to 1.00; P = .04).
Conclusions and relevance: In this study, inserting benchmark prevalence information in lumbar spine imaging reports did not decrease subsequent spine-related RVUs but did reduce subsequent opioid prescriptions. The intervention text is simple, inexpensive, and easily implemented.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT02015455.