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Targeted care of back pain can halve work absences

11th March 2014

Back pain is the sixth highest contributor to the global burden of disease taking up 14% of UK adult's consultations with GPs.

SkeletonA team at the Arthritis Research UK Primary Care Centre at Keele University, analysed 922 people with lower back pain from five GP practices in Cheshire.

The study was published in the journal Annals of Family Medicine. It revealed that patients who received targeted treatment of back pain were, compared to no care, 50% less likely to miss work and, compared to usual care, 30% less likely to be absent.

Targeted care uses a screening tool that categories patients into risk groups and matches the treatment with the severity of their pain. Previous research of targeted (also known as 'stratified') care for back pain has already been proved effective (published in 2011 in The Lancet; Hill et al 2011).

This research noted the benefits of targeted care to include modest improvements in physical function; reduction in prescribed mediation; reduction of fear-avoidance beliefs; improvement of satisfaction with care and improvement of work attendance.

Other benefits included a small overall reduction in cost of healthcare and large indirect savings due to fewer pain-related work absences.

The study was funded by the Health Foundation and led by NIHR Professor Nadine Foster at Keele University, who said: "We have shown that this approach to stratifying care can be implemented in general practice, leading to better outcomes for patients, reductions in work absence and more targeted use of health care resource without increasing health care costs."

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