Objective: To evaluate the effectiveness and cost effectiveness of specially trained physiotherapists in the assessment and management of defined referrals to hospital orthopaedic departments. Design: Randomised controlled trial. Setting: Orthopaedic outpatient departments in two hospitals. Subjects: 481 patients with musculoskeletal problems referred for specialist orthopaedic opinion. Interventions: Initial assessment and management undertaken by post-Fellowship junior orthopaedic surgeons, or by specially trained physiotherapists working in an extended role (orthopaedic physiotherapy specialists). Main outcome measures: Patient centred measures of pain, functional disability and perceived handicap. Results: A total of 6511 patients were eligible to join the trial, 481 (73.6%) gave their consent to be randomised. The two arms (doctor n = 244, physiotherapist n = 237) were similar at baseline. Baseline and follow up questionnaires were completed by 383 patients (79.6%). The mean time to follow up was 5.6 months after randomisation, with similar distributions of intervals to follow up in both arms. The only outcome for which there was a statistically or clinically important difference between arms was in a measure of patient satisfaction, which favoured the physiotherapist arm. A cost minimisation analysis showed no significant differences in direct costs to the patient or NHS primary care costs. Direct hospital casts were lower (p <0.00001) in the physiotherapist arm (mean cost per patient = £256, n = 232), as they were less likely to order radiographs and to refer patients for orthopaedic surgery than were the junior doctors (mean cost per patient in arm = £498, n = 238). Conclusions: On the basis of the patient centred outcomes measured in this randomised trial, orthopaedic physiotherapy specialists are as effective as post-Fellowship junior staff and clinical assistant orthopaedic surgeons in the initial assessment and management of new referrals to outpatient orthopaedic departments, and generate lower initial direct hospital costs.
|Number of pages||7|
|Journal||Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health|
|Publication status||Published - Oct 1999|