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Physiotherapists can deal with 99% of musculoskeletal patients

Friday 19th April 2019
A new study has found that the vast majority of musculoskeletal conditions can be dealt by first-contact physiotherapists without the need for GP review.
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First-contact physiotherapists can be put to greater use than is currently the case, according to a new study, as it has emerged that 99 per cent of patients suffering from some kind of musculoskeletal condition can be treated by a physiotherapist without any need for GP review.

The research was published in the British Journal of General Practice, and featured a two-year review of 8,417 different cases from two GP practices in Forth Valley NHS in which patients had suffered from musculoskeletal cases. Out of all of the cases, only one per cent required any kind of GP review.

The majority of the patients were dealt with quickly and easily, without the need for unnecessary referrals. In total, 87.3 per cent of cases were dealt with within primary care, and 60.4 per cent were treated with self-management.

In both practices that were analysed in the study, switching from GPs to physiotherapists for musculoskeletal conditions reduced the number of referrals to orthopaedics that occurred. In the first, this fell from 1.1 referrals per 1,000 patients to 0.7, while in the second it decreased even more dramatically from 2.4 referrals per 1,000 patients down to 0.8. In total, across both practices, 86 per cent of these referrals were deemed to be appropriate.

Of course, in some cases GPs were still needed. For example, 12 per cent of patients needed a prescription of some kind, while three per cent needed a note explaining their status. However, in most cases these were provided by the duty GP, therefore did not require an appointment.

Considering the large number of patients that book appointments for musculoskeletal conditions - estimated to be around a quarter of all patients - this has the potential to significantly decrease GPs’ workload. At the same time, it could lead to greater recognition of the importance of physiotherapy within the NHS.

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