To improve patient care, and to reduce unnecessary referrals for diagnostic imaging and medical specialist care for low back pain, an evidence-based guideline for low back pain was developed in the Netherlands in 2010. The current study evaluated the effect of a multifaceted implementation strategy on guideline adherence among Dutch general practitioners.
The implementation strategy included a multidisciplinary training, provision of educational material and an interactive website for healthcare professionals, supported by a multimedia eHealth intervention for patients with low back pain. Adherence was measured using performance indicators based on 3 months data extracted from the contacts with patients with low back pain recorded in the electronic medical records of participating general practitioners. Performance indicators were compared between two groups: a usual care group and an implementation group. Performance indicators were referrals to consultations with medical specialists, to diagnostic imaging, and to psychosocial and/or occupational physician consultations, and inquiries about psychosocial and occupational risk factors.
The electronic medical records of 5130 patient contacts for LBP were analysed; 2453 patient contacts in the usual care group and 2677 patient contacts in the implementation group. Overall, rates of referral and of recorded inquiries regarding psychosocial and occupational risk factors remained low in both groups over time. The only statistically significant difference found was a reduction in the number of referrals to neurologists in the implementation group (from 100 (7%) to 50 (4%)) compared to the usual care group (from 48 (4%) to 50 (4%), (p < 0.01)). There were no other between-group differences in referrals.
In the short term, the strategy did not result in improved guideline adherence among general practitioners, and it is not recommended for widespread use. However, baseline referral rates in participating practices were already low, possibly leaving only little room for improvement. Inquiries for psychosocial and occupational risk factors remained low and this leaves room for improvement.
This trial is registered in the Netherlands Trial Register (NTR): NTR4329. Registration date: December 20th, 2013.