Primary care physician perspectives on screening for axial spondyloarthritis: A qualitative study

PLoS One. 2021 May 24;16(5):e0252018. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0252018. eCollection 2021.


Background: Many patients with axial spondylarthritis (axSpA) experience lengthy diagnostic delays upwards of 14 years. (5-14 years). Screening tools for axSpA have been proposed for use in primary care settings, but whether this approach could be implemented into busy primary care settings remains unknown.

Objective: To solicit feedback from primary care physicians regarding questions from the Inflammatory Back Pain Assessment: the Assessment of Spondyloarthritis International Society (ASAS) Expert Criteria and gain insight about barriers and facilitators for implementing axSpA screening in primary care.

Methods: Guided by Consolidated Criteria for reporting Qualitative Research (COREQ-criteria), we recorded, transcribed, and analyzed in-depth interviews with eight family medicine physicians and ten internists (purposeful sampling) using immersion/crystallization techniques.

Results: Few physicians reported awareness of existing classification criteria for axSpA, and many reported a lack of confidence in their ability to distinguish between inflammatory and mechanical back pain. From three domains, 10 subthemes emerged: 1) typical work-up of axSpA patients in primary care, with subthemes including the clues involved in work-up and role of clinical examinations for axSpA; 2) feedback on questions from the Inflammatory Back Pain Assessment: ASAS Expert Criteria, with subthemes to evaluate contents/questions of a potential screening tool for axSpA; and 3) implementation of the screening tool in primary care settings, with subthemes of perceived barriers including awareness, time, other conditions to screen, rare disease, and lack of structured questionnaire for back pain and perceived facilitators including workflow issues and awareness.

Conclusions: Primary care physicians believed that an improved screening instrument and a strong evidence-base to support the need for screening for axSpA are required. The implementation of axSpA screening into a busy primary care practice requires integration into the practice workflow, with use of technology suggested as a possible way to improve efficiency.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Back Pain / diagnosis*
  • Back Pain / epidemiology
  • Back Pain / physiopathology
  • Electronic Health Records
  • Female
  • General Practitioners
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / diagnosis*
  • Inflammation / epidemiology
  • Inflammation / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Mass Screening*
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians, Primary Care
  • Primary Health Care
  • Qualitative Research
  • Spondylarthritis / diagnosis*
  • Spondylarthritis / epidemiology
  • Spondylarthritis / physiopathology
  • Sports Medicine