A randomised controlled trial. Shifting boundaries of doctors and physiotherapists in orthopaedic outpatient departments

Gavin Daker-White, Alison J. Carr, Ian Harvey, Gillian Woolhead, Gordon Bannister, Ian Nelson, Max Kammerling

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    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.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)643-650
    Number of pages7
    JournalJournal of Epidemiology and Community Health
    Issue number10
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 1999


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