Specialty Differences in Initial Evaluation of Patients With Non-Acute Musculoskeletal Pain
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PURPOSE: To explore medical diagnostic testing of new cases of musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions associated with chronic pain. METHODS: We analyzed nationally representative cross-sectional data of people having visits with a new likely chronic MSK pain condition. We documented depression screening and prescribing of diagnostic imaging and blood tests and explored associations between patient and provider factors for each. RESULTS: Over the 9 years of the survey, there were 11,994 initial visits for chronic MSK pain, an average of 36.8 million weighted visits per year or approximately 11.8% of the population. Proportions for depression screening, prescribed imaging, and blood tests were 1.79%, 36.34%, and 9.70%, respectively. People on any public health insurance had twice the increased relative odds to be screened for depression. Orthopedists had 3 times increased relative odds to prescribe imaging compared with family physicians; oncologists had 4 times increased relative odds to prescribe blood tests. Survey year was significantly associated with depression screening and ordering any type of imaging. CONCLUSIONS: Observed rates of depression screening and nonindicated imaging for patients with chronic MSK pain have fluctuated over time. The impact of these fluctuations on clinical practice is as yet unknown. The type of nonrecommended actions varied by specialty of physician.
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