Deferred Care for Adults with Musculoskeletal Complaints

Published in: Effective Clinical Practice, v. 4, no. 2, Mar./Apr. 2001, p. 65-72

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 2000

by Donna L. Washington, Paul G. Shekelle, Carl Stevens

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CONTEXT: Many ambulatory care facilities do not have resources to provide same-day care for all walk-in patients. Yet, there are few guidelines that identify patients for whom care can be safely deferred. OBJECTIVE: To describe the development and implementation of deferred-care guidelines for adults with musculoskeletal complaints. DESIGN: Consensus process and field test. GUIDELINE DEVELOPMENT: After an eight-member multidisciplinary physician panel identified critical factors that necessitate same-day care, the authors created 34 clinical scenarios to consider for deferred care. In 22 scenarios, the panel members agreed that deferred care was safe. These were formatted into screening guidelines for back, neck, isolated extremity, and generalized muscle pain. IMPLEMENTATION: In reliability testing between two nurses reading 40 patient scenarios, interrater agreement for deferred care was nearly perfect (K=0.95). The guidelines were then applied to 448 patients presenting with musculoskeletal complaints to a Veterans Administration ambulatory care triage station. One hundred seven (24%) patients met guidelines for deferred care. Seventy-six patients agreed to have their care deferred, of which 66 kept their return appointment. CONCLUSIONS: Our guidelines suggest that a substantial proportion of patients with musculoskeletal complaints can have their care deferred. Most patients were willing to do so and kept their follow-up appointment. Use of these guidelines could help decompress ambulatory settings with limited resources to provide nonemergency same-day care.

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