A systematic review of data regarding lower back pain (LBP) patients’ perceived healthcare provider needs found four areas were prominent factors in overall patient satisfaction. These included good communication and shared decision-making, the legitimization of symptoms and information about their cause and treatment, individualized, holistic care with continuity, and greater access to treatment, with lower waiting times and costs.
LBP affects 8 of 10 adults during their lifetime and accounts for approximately $88 billion in U.S. healthcare costs each year. To effectively treat chronic back pain, patients may require a combination of approaches, including psychological, medical, chiropractic, and physical therapists, but they are less likely to seek out or maintain their treatment when they are dissatisfied with their care. The authors of the review study sought to identify how practitioners might best adopt a patient-centric model of care that would align with the perceived needs of most LBP patients.
The systematic scoping review was based on the Arksey and O’Malley framework and mapped key concepts to identify specific evidence types in the available literature. An electronic search of medical data bases included studies published between January 1990 and June 2016. A multidisciplinary team involving a senior academic librarian, clinician researchers, and input from patients was utilized to design the search strategy that identified data from LBP patients with, or without leg pain, but excluding injuries, cancers, inflammatory spinal disorders, and pain caused by infections. The articles chosen were then reviewed by trained epidemiologists, Rheumatologists, Physiotherapists, or PhD Candidates. Another set of articles was then reviewed independently and in correlation with the first set as to their relevance. Studies included in the review were those of LBP patients 18 years or older that reported on the patients’ perceived practitioner needs, and were conducted in English. The data was then categorized and grouped into similar themes.
Four Areas of Perceived Needs
The data sets indicated four main areas of perceived need when it comes to patient satisfaction with their care giver. These include healthcare providers that exhibit desirable characteristics when it comes to treatment and care; a need for information about the cause and treatment of LBP; aspects of care needs; and potential barriers to satisfactory care.
Type of Care Patients Desire
One of the most important characteristics in a good practitioner to most LBP patients interviewed in the literature was good communication skills. Being able to discuss their discomfort and feel their ideas have been heard is very important to patients, as is clear instructions that do not involve medical ‘jargon.’ Patients want their provider to treat them with encouragement and to individually personalize their communications. (Interestingly, older patients were not as concerned about the communication style.)
Patients in two studies reported their wish to be actively involved in the decision-making and having the medical instructions be more consultative and less prescriptive. They preferred to be listened to and felt frustrated when their condition appeared to be more of a priority than their self.
Empathy, Confidence, Understanding
Patients in several studied reported their desire that care providers be empathetic and non-judgmental, especially when it came to understanding their unique work environments and other potential stressors that might contribute to or exacerbate their LBP.
Skills and Qualifications
Patients in four studies were concerned with their healthcare providers’ technical skills, reputation, and qualifications and reported feeling more comfortable with confident, highly-trained practitioners.
The Need for Information
Repeatedly, patients reported the need for a clear diagnosis that would identify the cause of their LBP. Patients who were unable to get a clear understanding of why they were experiencing LBP from their healthcare provider reported anger and frustration when their expectations went unfulfilled.
Better Understanding of Treatment Techniques
Patients in 15 studies were concerned that their practitioners had not adequately explained how to care for their back and wished they had received more reassurance and direction about activities to avoid that might make their pain worse. These patients reported the need for information they could clearly understand and suggested that the use of diagrams or visual aids might help them to better visualize their condition and remedies. In fact, being unable to understand their practitioner’s explanation of their LBP was one of the most frequent complaints in these reviews.
Aspects of Better Overall Care
When it comes to practitioner approaches to care, five studies indicated that patients prefer holistic, supportive, personal, and encouraging approaches to care. Rather than focusing only on the source of discomfort, patients reported feeling more empowered when their practitioners would place less emphasis on the disease and more on their person, as a whole. They placed tremendous value on encouraging words and emotional support.
Assessment, Continuity of Care, Time, and Effort
Patients in six studies wished to have a more thorough physical assessment from their care provider. A physical exam, oral history, and clear discussion of the problem were important to them, as was a continuity in their care.
Many patients expressed feeling stigmatized by family, friends, employers, and the community due to their pain. They sought answers and legitimacy from their healthcare providers. They also wished for better collaboration and understanding between their primary care provider and their LBP specialist.
The rising cost of healthcare was reported as a common barrier to receiving effective treatment for LBP in many patients. The expense of exercise programs was also prohibitive when it came to being proactive about their condition. Finding quality care in a timely way, and having to wait for treatment were other difficulties reported by patients, as were weather concerns, a lack of social support, commitments to the job and family, and not enough personal time to address LBP treatment needs.
Patients with LBP believe they would benefit from providers that have good communication skills and listen well. They wish to be treated with empathy, respect and understanding, and they want their condition to be legitimized by their practitioner and explained in a way that makes sense to them. The use of diagrams or other visual aids are preferred over lengthy verbal explanations alone. They want to be treated promptly and in a collaborative way that involves them in the decision-making process about therapeutic methods. They are frustrated when no diagnosis is offered or when practitioners do not offer an understandable explanation of their condition. They want their practitioners to be qualified and confident and to work in a collaborative manner with their other healthcare providers to address their LBP. They wish to be treated in a holistic, personal way and to not feel stigmatized or judged because of their pain. Studies have demonstrated that patients who are satisfied with their healthcare providers have better overall treatment outcomes, and this review defines key ways that practitioners may become more effective in treating their LBP patients successfully.
KEYWORDS: Patients Value Collaborative Care, Information, Validation, and Good Communication Skills, patient-centric model of care, important characteristics in a good practitioner, key ways that practitioners may become more effective in treating their LBP patients