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J Man Manip Ther. 2012 Feb;20(1):23-7. doi: 10.1179/2042618611Y.0000000021.

Assessment of referrals to a multidisciplinary outpatient clinic for patients with back pain.

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Department of Neurosurgery, St. Olavs Hospital, Trondheim, Norway.



Each year our multidisciplinary outpatient clinic for patients with back pain receives a large number of referrals from primary care physicians, manual physiotherapists, and chiropractors. We wanted to assess the quality of the referrals regarding the information provided about case history, clinical findings, and results from additional investigations.


Two hundred and eighty six consecutive referrals received in the time period from 1 October 2008 to 1 March 2009 were reviewed. We investigated if the referrals contained 12 given items. The items were defined by consensus of the broad range of specialists working at the multidisciplinary outpatient clinic. All registered items were regarded as useful when assigning patients with a priority and appropriate caregiver at the outpatient clinic. The 12 items that our group felt were reflective of good referrals were information about occupational status, duration of symptoms, pain distribution, sensory symptoms, use of analgesics, alleviating and/or aggravating factors, systems enquiry (i.e. urination, bowel movements, and sleep), provided treatment, deep tendon reflexes, motor function, sensory examination, and radiculopathy tests (i.e. straight leg raise and/or foraminal compression test).


Two hundred and fifty six (89·5%) referrals were from primary care physicians, and the remaining came from physicians in internships, manual physiotherapists, and chiropractors. Six (2·1%) referrals contained all 12 items. On average each referral contained 5·95 items (95% CI: 5·66-6·25). Information about analgesics, sensory symptoms, systems enquiry, and alleviating and aggravating factors was most frequently missing. Information about provided treatment, motor function, deep tendon reflexes, clinical tests, and occupational status was included in about half of the referrals. In 27·3% of the referrals from primary care physicians information about clinical findings was missing. Referrals from manual physiotherapists contained statistically significant more information (9·67 items, 95% CI: 7·63-11·70) than from the other groups (P<0·001). The number of patients registered with each primary care physician did not affect the number of items in the referrals.


Many of the referrals were inadequate. Inadequate referrals can lead to prolonged waiting time for examination and treatment. Referrals with relevant information about patient history and clinical findings are essential in order to assign patients with an appropriate caregiver at the outpatient clinic and to determine if and which diagnostic imaging findings are of clinical relevance.


Manual therapy; Primary care; Referrals; Specialist care; Spinal

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