Can patient-reported profiles avoid unnecessary referral to a spine surgeon? An observational study to further develop the Nijmegen decision tool for chronic low back pain

Miranda L. van Hooff*, Johanna M. van Dongen, Veerle M. Coupé, Maarten Spruit, Raymond W.J.G. Ostelo, Marinus de Kleuver

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Introduction Chronic Low Back Pain (CLBP) is a heterogeneous condition with lack of diagnostic clarity. Therapeutic interventions show small effects. To improve outcomes by targeting interventions it is recommended to develop a triage system to surgical and non-surgical treatments based on treatment outcomes. The objective of the current study was to develop and internally validate prognostic models based on pre-treatment patient-reported profiles that identify patients who either respond or do not respond to two frequently performed treatments (lumbar spine surgery and multidisciplinary pain management program). Methods A consecutive cohort study in a secondary referral spine center was performed. The study followed the recommendations of the PROGRESS framework and was registered in the Dutch Trial Register (NTR5946). Data of forty-seven potential pre-consultation (baseline) indicators predicting ‘response’ or ‘non-response’ at one-year follow-up for the two treatments were obtained to develop and validate four multivariable logistic regression models. The source population consisted of 3,410 referred CLBP-patients. Two treatment cohorts were defined: elective ‘spine surgery’ (n = 217 [6.4%]) and multidisciplinary bio-psychosocial ‘pain management program’ (n = 171 [5.0%]). Main inclusion criteria were age 18, CLBP (6 months), and not responding to primary care treatment. The primary outcome was functional ability: ‘response’ (Oswestry Disability Index [ODI] 22) and ‘non-response’ (ODI 41). Results Baseline indicators predictive of treatment outcome were: degree of disability (all models), 2 previous spine surgeries, psychosocial complaints, age (onset <20 or >50), and patient expectations of treatment outcomes. The explained variances were low for the models predicting response and non-response to pain management program (R2 respectively 23% and 26%) and modest for surgery (R2 30% and 39%). The overall performance was acceptable (c-index; 0.72–0.83), the model predicting non-response to surgery performed best (R2 = 39%; c-index = 0.83). Conclusion This study was the first to identify different patient-reported profiles that predict response to different treatments for CLBP. The model predicting ‘non-response’ to elective lumbar spine surgery performed remarkably well, suggesting that referrals of these patients to a spine surgeon could be avoided. After external validation, the patient-reported profiles could potentially enhance timely patient triage to the right secondary care specialist and improve decision-making between clinican and patient. This could lead to improved treatment outcomes, which results in a more efficient use of healthcare resources.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0203518
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sept 2018


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