INTRODUCTION: Around 17% of general practitioner (GP) consultations are for musculoskeletal conditions, which will rise as the population ages. Patient direct access to physiotherapy provides one solution, yet adoption in the National Health Service (NHS) has been slow.
SETTING: A pilot, pragmatic, non-inferiority, cluster randomised controlled trial (RCT) in general practice and physiotherapy services in the UK.
OBJECTIVES: Investigate feasibility of a main RCT.
PARTICIPANTS: Adult patients registered in participating practices and consulting with a musculoskeletal problem.
INTERVENTIONS: 4 general practices (clusters) randomised to provide GP-led care as usual or the addition of a patient direct access to physiotherapy pathway.
OUTCOMES: Process outcomes and exploratory analyses of clinical and cost outcomes.
DATA COLLECTION: Participant-level data were collected via questionnaires at identification, 2, 6 and 12 months and through medical records.
BLINDING: The study statistician and research nurses were blinded to practice allocation.
RESULTS: Of 2696 patients invited to complete study questionnaires, 978 participated (intervention group n=425, control arm n=553) and were analysed. Participant recruitment was completed in 6 months. Follow-up rates were 78% (6 months) and 71% (12 months). No evidence of selection bias was observed. The direct access pathway was used by 90% of patients in intervention practices needing physiotherapy. Some increase in referrals to physiotherapy occurred from one practice, although waiting times for physiotherapy did not increase (28 days before, 26 days after introduction of direct access). No safety issues were identified. Clinical and cost outcomes were similar in both groups. Exploratory estimates of between group effect (using 36-item Short Form Health Survey (SF-36) Physical Component Summary (PCS)) at 6 months was -0.28 (95% CI -1.35 to 0.79) and at 12 months 0.12 (95% CI -1.27 to 1.51).
CONCLUSIONS: A full RCT is feasible and will provide trial evidence about the clinical and cost-effectiveness of patient direct access to physiotherapy.
TRIAL REGISTRATION NUMBER: ISRCTN23378642.
- Journal Article