At the end of September 2011 the findings of the Primary Care Research Network (PCRN)-supported STarT Back Trial were featured in the Lancet medical journal.
By comparing the StarT Back targeted treatment model with NHS standard physiotherapy care, the study showed that targeted treatment for back pain improves care and "substantially" reduces healthcare costs.Instead of a "one size fits all" approach, StarT Back offers different treatments to patients depending on the severity of the condition. This new approach resulted in reduced levels of pain and distress, fewer days off work, reduced cost to the NHS and increased patient satisfaction.
Writing in the Lancet, the authors of the researcher said the findings would have "important implications" for back pain patients.
PCRN - Central England and West Midlands (North) Comprehensive Local Research Network supported the research which was led by a team at Keele University. PCRN – Central England helped to recruit more than 850 patients from 10 general practices over a 15 month period. A third of the patients (283) received standard NHS treatment. The remaining (568) were assessed as having either low, medium or high risk of long-term and disabling back pain, and received treatment according to their assessment results. After 12 months, the targeted groups showed significantly more improvement than the traditional treatment group.
The Network supported this research in a number of ways. For example, they installed ‘pop ups’ on consultation computer systems to remind GPs to recruit patients who complained of back pain. This approach was so successful the study met its recruitment target three months ahead of schedule. The Network also supported research physiotherapists to be trained to deliver the study-specific interventions, as well as research clinics and follow-up assessments.
Lead researcher Professor Elaine Hay, of Keele University, said:
"The problem for GPs and other health professionals is spotting who, amongst the patients they see with back pain, is likely to get better with simple advice and reassurance, and who might benefit from further treatment from a physiotherapist."
She added that 50 centres in the UK had already adopted the new approach and that "The data shows that it is having a substantial beneficial impact where it is being implemented."