Perceptions of general practitioners towards the use of a new system for treating back pain: a qualitative interview study

Tom Sanders, Nadine E. Foster, Bie Nio Ong

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Changing clinicians' behaviour is recognised as a major challenge. It is clear that behaviour change not only depends on demonstrating the proven effectiveness of clinical interventions; contextual and occupational factors, such as 'change readiness', may be central to their implementation. This paper highlights the context of behaviour change in relation to a healthcare innovation introduced within primary care, highlighting the importance of organisational and interpersonal factors that may help explain the dynamics of implementation.

Qualitative interviews were conducted with general practitioners (GPs) before (n = 32) and after (n = 9) the introduction of a subgrouping for targeted treatment system. GPs were offered an electronic six-item subgrouping tool, to identify patients according to their risk of poor outcome ('high', 'low') in order to help inform their decision making about treatment approaches. Recruitment was based on a 'maximum diversification sample', to obtain a wide representation of views across all five practices. A coding scheme was developed based on the emergent findings, and the data were analysed using 'constant comparison', drawing upon insights and developing connections between themes. We adopted the normalisation process theory (NPT) to explain the uptake of the new system and to examine the relevance of coherence for the implementation of innovations in organisations.

GPs perceived back pain as a low clinical priority, and highlighted the importance of 'practical' and 'relational' coherence in decisions to adopt and engage with the new subgrouping for targeted treatment system. Health professionals often engage in 'sense making' about new innovations to 'road test' their applicability or relevance to daily clinical routines. Low back pain was generally perceived as an 'uninteresting' and clinically unchallenging health problem by GPs, which may partly explain their lack of engagement with the new subgrouping for targeted treatment system. The adoption of this new way of working by GPs was determined by the meaning that they ascribed to it in the context of their daily clinical routines.

We conclude that the key obstacle to implementation of the new subgrouping for targeted treatment system for low back pain in primary care was an initial failure to achieve 'coherence' of the desired practice change with GPs. Despite this, GPs used the tool to different degrees, though this signified a general commitment to participating in the study rather than a deeper attitude change towards the new system.
Original languageEnglish
Article number49
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Medicine
Early online date9 May 2011
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2011


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