Diagnostic Differences Between General Practitioners and Orthopaedic Surgeons in Low Back Pain Patients
Background. There is a growing consensus on low back pain treatment. However, whether this extends to diagnostic labelling is still largely unknown. The aim of this report was to compare the diagnostic assessment of low back pain patients between general practitioners trained in manual therapy and orthopaedic surgeons.
Methods. Population-based randomized controlled trial in which 160 patients with acute or sub-acute low back pain were assessed and treated by general practitioners or orthopaedic surgeons. Information on diagnoses and use of diagnostic imaging was obtained from medical records and physician questionnaires covering the ten-week treatment period. The Quebec Task Force classification and free text analysis were used to group diagnostic labels.
Results: At baseline there were no significant differences in medical history, findings at physical examination and distribution of the Quebec Task Force diagnostic classification between the patient groups, indicating that they were similar. However, there were significant differences in physicians’ use of diagnostic labels for local pain and their characterisation of radiating pain. General practitioners used more terms from manual medicine and reported more pseudoradicular pain than orthopaedic surgeons, who used non-specific pain labels, reported more true radicular pain and used more x-ray examinations. Differences were found at all times from first visit to ten week follow-up.
Conclusions: There were significant differences in diagnostic assessment and use of diagnostic radiology between general practitioners and orthopaedic surgeons.
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