A data review of how education of patients suffering from lower back pain (LBP) in a primary care setting affects their psychological state found moderate-to-high evidence that when primary care physicians provided information on the condition, their patients were reassured and experienced long-term healthy and psychological benefits.
Although it has been long-established that reassurance from a medical practitioner improves patient outcomes, it is also true that reassuring non-specific illness patients without educating them about their condition can contribute to stress, which can precipitate chronic pain and expensive, recurring health care costs.
Because LBP patients are often discouraged from receiving costly diagnostic imaging tests, they may not experience the reassurance that comes from understanding the source of their pain. Though only 25 percent of physicians in the UK currently order imaging as a matter of course, the number is increasing as the benefits of patient reassurance become more evident.
Another means of patient reassurance involves preplanned educational materials that explain the condition in understandable language. Booklets, diagrams, and dynamic devices that clearly demonstrate the health problem and how it can be treated may have beneficial health and psychological effects on LBP in a clinical setting, but there have been few studies to validate the effectiveness of these intervention methods. The purpose of this systematic review was to examine how patient education would increase reassurance in LBP patients and to determine which method of intervention was most effective.
A literature review of identified, eligible studies was conducted in November of 2013 and repeated in June of 2014. The studies reviewed involved LBP patient education, advice, reassurance, information, counselling, and consultation in clinical trial settings. Eligibility included LBP adult patients with acute or subacute conditions in clinical trials where more than 70 percent of the patients reported symptoms and where the interventions were conducted in a primary care setting, with at least one patient education element, either written or verbal, that provided reassurance.
The data analysis of the review suggested, with moderate-to-high quality evidence, that patients with LBP are reassured when they receive education about their condition from their primary care provider and that the positive effects of the intervention are still evident at a one-year follow-up consultation. The evidence also showed that receiving education about their LBP during their initial primary care visit reduced the amount of LBP health-care visits over a one-year period. A sub-group review also determined that patients were more reassured when they received education about their condition directly from their physician, rather than from a nurse of a physiotherapist.
The results of this review indicate that physicians who can provide their LBP patients with structured, understandable educational materials about their condition are more successful in reassuring their patients, who continue to have lasting health and psychological benefits for up to a year after their initial consultation. Because patients with LBP typically endure numerous costly treatments and may suffer from chronic pain and stress, it would be beneficial for primary care physicians to prepare educational materials that could lead to a more successful treatment outcome and reduced financial burden for their patients.
KEYWORDS: educating lower back pain patients, patients suffering from lower back pain, patient reassurance, patient education, diagnostic imaging tests, psychological effects of LBP