Healthcare utilisation for back pain by Australian women aged 59-64

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Background: Back pain affects a substantial proportion of the adult population and back pain sufferers tend to explore a wide range of health care options. This study investigates the health care utilisation amongst Australian women with back pain. Method: This is a sub-study of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH), designed to investigate multiple factors affecting the health and well-being of women over a 20-year period. The study focuses on 1,851 women aged 59-64 years, who had indicated that they had previously sought help from a health care practitioner for back pain. Results: Half of the women (56.5% n=738) with back pain had consulted a general practitioner (GP), 16.2% (n=213) had consulted a medical specialist and 37.3% (n=488) had consulted a physiotherapist for their back pain. Women consulted a GP and/or a medical specialist for back pain related symptoms/conditions: back pain (56.2%); leg pain or sciatica (39.7%); sleeping problems (36.9%); anxiety/tension (27.9%), pins and needles/numbness (27.7%); neck pain (27.6%); fatigue (25.5%); depression (25.1%); muscle spasm (23.6%); headaches/migraines (23.0%); stiffness (21.6); arm pain (19.1%); weakness (15.7%); nausea (12.7%); and instability (7.1%). On the other hand, a physiotherapist was consulted: back pain (68.0%); neck pain (45.5%); leg pain or sciatica (39.3%); stiffness (32.2%); muscle spasm (22.3%); arm pain (21.3%); pins and needles or numbness (17.6%); headaches or migraines (13.9%); weakness (8.8%); instability (5.5%); and other problems (14.1%). Further, women with regular or continuous back pain were more likely to consult a GP (OR=3.98), medical specialist (OR=5.66) and a physiotherapist (OR=1.63). Women who consulted a general practitioner and/or a medical specialist had a statistically significantly higher mean typical back pain intensity compared to women who did not consult a general practitioner (p=0.001) or medical specialist (p<0.001). Conclusion: Australian women with back pain were more likely to consult a GP, medical specialist or physiotherapist if they had more regular/continuous back pain. However, women were more likely to consult a GP for back pain associated with psychosomatic comorbid conditions and consulted a physiotherapist for musculoskeletal issues. There is a need for a more formal cross-referral system, wherein medical specialists and physiotherapists refer patients with comorbid conditions to a GP if they were the first practitioners to be visited. It is important that future research to further investigate the consultation and referral patterns identified in this study to inform healthcare industry and the policy makers about the healthcare utilisation among Australian women with back pain.
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