A value proposition for early physical therapist management of neck pain: a retrospective cohort analysis.

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BACKGROUND: Neck pain is one of the most common reasons for entry into the healthcare system. Recent increases in healthcare utilization and medical costs have not correlated with improvements in health. Therefore there is a need to identify management strategies for neck pain that are effective for the patient, cost efficient for the payer and provided at the optimal time during an episode of neck pain. METHODS: One thousand five hundred thirty-one patients who underwent physical therapist management with a primary complaint of non-specific neck pain from January 1, 2008 to December 31, 2012 were identified from the Rehabilitation Outcomes Management System (ROMS) database at Intermountain Healthcare. Patients reporting duration of symptoms less than 4 weeks were designated as undergoing "early" management and patients with duration of symptoms greater than 4 weeks were designated as receiving "delayed" management. These groups were compared using binary logistic regression to examine odds of achieving Minimal Clinically Important Difference (MCID) on the Neck Disability Index (NDI) and Numerical Pain Rating Scale (NPRS). Separate generalized linear modeling examined the effect of timing of physical therapist management on the metrics of value and efficiency. RESULTS: Patients who received early physical therapist management had increased odds of achieving MCID on the NDI (aOR = 2.01, 95 % CI 1.57, 2.56) and MCID on the NPRS (aOR = 1.82, 95 % CI 1.42, 2.38), when compared to patients receiving delayed management. Patients who received early management demonstrated the greatest value in decreasing disability with a 2.27 percentage point change in NDI score per 100 dollars, best value in decreasing pain with a 0.38 point change on the NPRS per 100 dollars. Finally, patients receiving early management were managed more efficiently with a 3.44 percentage point change in NDI score per visit and 0.57 point change in NPRS score per visit. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that healthcare systems that provide pathways for patients to receive early physical therapist management of neck pain may realize improved patient outcomes, greater value and higher efficiency in decreasing disability and pain compared to delayed management. Further research is needed to confirm this assertion.





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Horn, Maggie E, Gerard P Brennan, Steven Z George, Jeffrey S Harman and Mark D Bishop (2016). A value proposition for early physical therapist management of neck pain: a retrospective cohort analysis. BMC Health Serv Res, 16. p. 253. 10.1186/s12913-016-1504-5 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/12756.

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Maggie Elizabeth Horn

Assistant Professor in Orthopaedic Surgery

Steven Zachary George

Laszlo Ormandy Distinguished Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery

Dr. George’s primary interest is research involving biopsychosocial models for the prevention and treatment of chronic musculoskeletal pain disorders.  His long term goals are to 1) improve accuracy for predicting who is going to develop chronic pain; and 2) identify non-pharmacological treatment options that limit the development of chronic pain conditions.  Dr. George is an active member of the American Physical Therapy Association, United States Association of the Study of Pain, and International Association for the Study of Pain. 

Dr. George’s research projects have been supported by the National Institutes of Health, Department of Defense, and Orthopaedic Academy of the American Physical Therapy Association.  Dr. George and his collaborators have authored over 300 peer-reviewed publications in leading medical, orthopaedic surgery, physical therapy, rehabilitation, and pain research journals.  He currently serves as Deputy Editor for Physical Therapy and is an Editorial Board Member for the Journal of Pain. Dr. George has also been involved with clinical practice guideline development for the Academy of Orthopaedic Physical Therapy and the American Psychological Association. 

Dr. George has been recognized with prestigious research awards from the American Physical Therapy Association, American Pain Society, and International Association for the Study of Pain. For example from the American Physical Therapy Association: he was named the  21st John H.P. Maley Lecturer, recognized as a Catherine Worthingham Fellow in 2017, and selected for the Marian Williams Award for Research in Physical Therapy in 2022.    

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