A qualitative study of influences on older women's practitioner choices for back pain care

Publication Type:
Journal Article
BMC Health Services Research, 2014, 14 (1)
Issue Date:
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Background: Back pain is an increasingly prevalent health concern amongst Australian women for which a wide range of treatment options are available, offered by biomedical, allied health and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) providers. Although there is an emerging literature on patterns of provider utilisation, less is known about the reasons why women with back pain select their chosen practitioner. In this paper we explore the influences on back pain sufferers' decision-making about treatment seeking with practitioners for their most recent episode of back pain. Methods. Drawing on 50 semi-structured interviews with women aged 60-65 years from the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women's Health (ALSWH) who have chronic back pain, we focus on the factors which influence their choice of practitioner. Analysis followed a framework approach to qualitative content analysis, augmented by NVivo 9 qualitative data analysis software. Key themes were identified and tested for rigour through inter-rater reliability and constant comparison. Results: The women identified four predominant influences on their choice of practitioner for back pain: familiarity with treatment or experiences with individual practitioners; recommendations from social networks; geographical proximity of practitioners; and, qualifications and credentials of practitioners. The therapeutic approach or evidence-base of the practices being utilised was not reported by the women as central to their back pain treatment decision making. Conclusions: Choice of practitioner appears to be unrelated to the therapeutic approaches, treatment practices or the scientific basis of therapeutic practices. Moreover, anecdotal lay reports of effectiveness and the 'treatment experience' may be more influential than formal qualifications in guiding women's choice of practitioner for their back pain. Further work is needed on the interpersonal, collective and subjective underpinnings of practitioner choice, particularly over time, in order to better understand why women utilise certain practitioners for back pain. © 2014 Kirby et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
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