Primary care physiotherapists ability to make correct management decisions - is there room for improvement? A mixed method study

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BACKGROUND: With increasing interest in direct access to physiotherapy, it is important to consider the physiotherapists (PTs) ability to make correct management decisions, because identification of differential diagnostic pathologies and timely referral for specialist care is vital for patient safety. The aims of the study were to investigate PTs ability to make correct management decisions in patients presenting with musculoskeletal conditions and to identify explanatory factors associated with this ability. Furthermore, we wanted to explore the PTs views on the identified factors.

METHODS: The study was a mixed methods study with an explanatory sequential design consisting of a questionnaire survey and semi-structured interviews. The questionnaire comprised 12 clinical vignettes describing patient scenarios for musculoskeletal conditions, non-critical medical conditions and critical medical conditions. Based on this, the PTs indicated whether the patient should be managed by the PT or were in need of medical referral. Associations between correct decisions and explanatory variables was analyzed by mixed- effects logistic regression. Interviews were performed with nine PTs to explore their reactions to the results. A directed content analysis was performed.

RESULTS: A total of 195 PTs participated in the questionnaire survey and 9 PTs were interviewed. Overall, PTs were more likely to make correct management decisions in the musculoskeletal conditions category, whereas wrong decisions were more often chosen for underlying medical conditions categories. Positive associations between correct management decision in the critical medical category were found for experience: odds ratio (OR) 2.73 (1.33;5.57) and passed quality audit OR 2.90 (1.50;5.58). In the interviews, PTs expressed concerns about the differential diagnostic abilities. They all noted, that experience is immensely important in the clinical reasoning process because the ability to recognise diagnostic patterns evolves over time. Furthermore, the quality audit seems to address and systematize the clinical reasoning process and workflow within the clinics.

CONCLUSION: The lack of ability to make correct management decision in critical medical categories and the uncertainties expressed by PT's should raise concern, as direct access to physiotherapy is already well-established and the results indicate that patient safety could be at risk. The findings that experience and passed quality audit was associated with correct management decisions highlights the need for ongoing awareness and education into differential diagnostics.

TidsskriftBMC Family Practice
StatusUdgivet - 6 okt. 2021

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