Original research| Volume 97, ISSUE 6, P900-911.e10, June 2016

Stratification of Treatment in a Community-Based Musculoskeletal Service: A Mixed-Methods Study to Assess Predictors of Requiring Complex Care

Published:December 29, 2015DOI:



      To explore factors that might be relevant when designing a triage tool.


      A mixed-methods study using multivariable logistic regression analysis to identify significant factors associated with requiring different levels of care, and qualitative focus groups exploring views of patients and physiotherapy clinicians regarding case complexity.


      A community-based adult musculoskeletal service delivering tier 1 (standard physiotherapy) and tier 2 care (complex care beyond the scope of standard physiotherapy) and providing onward referral to orthopedic clinics (tier 3).


      Quantitative data were extracted from a random sample of patients (N=484) who had received treatment for musculoskeletal conditions. Patients and physiotherapists who had received care or who worked in the service participated in focus groups.


      Not applicable.

      Main Outcome Measures

      Themes that emerged from focus groups were compared against predictors of requiring complex care found to be significant (P<.05) after quantitative data analysis.


      A total of 184 patients (38.0%; 95% confidence interval, 33.8–42.4) received complex care. Peripheral joint problems, unclear diagnosis, and symptoms affecting sleep were significant independent predictors of requiring complex care. These data supported some of the main themes raised at focus groups.


      A substantial proportion of patients receive tier 2 complex care. Further studies are needed to evaluate whether the predictive factors found to be significant in our study might be useful for developing a tool for more effective triage to the most appropriate tier of musculoskeletal care.


      List of abbreviations:

      CI (confidence interval), GP (general practitioner), MSK (musculoskeletal), UK (United Kingdom)
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