Reducing wait times for back pain sufferers

New funding helps UAlberta research team create triage centre for back pain sufferers

AIHS Staff - 13 February 2014

Joan Matthews-White enjoyed sports and an active life. During a 2012 ski trip however, she took a tumble and injured her back. It changed her life. She began navigating the health system seeking treatment for her back pain. After nine months of debilitating pain, Joan was finally set for surgery for her protruding disc. Many months after surgery, Joan continues her long road to recovery.

A newly funded research project intends to make Joan's experience a thing of the past. The Bone and Joint Health Strategic Clinical Network's (SCN) SpineAccess project will focus on early team triage to reduce back pain in most patients while improving access for those few patients who need specialist consultations and imaging.

"Early clinical triage is a proven solution that provides immediate care and education to the majority of those with back pain who do not require surgery, and it significantly improves the wait times for those who do," says Linda Woodhouse, PhD, the Bone and Joint Health SCN Scientific Director and SpineAccess research project lead. Woodhouse also holds the David Magee Endowed Chair in Clinical Research at the University of Alberta.

Drs. Woodhouse, Kawchuk, Phillips and their team from the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine will begin this journey by creating centres where multidisciplinary health care teams will assess and triage care for patients with back problems. These teams will help clear the health system of the back log of patients waiting for unnecessary procedures and help those who need to see specialists faster.

SpineAccess Alberta is one of ten projects funded through the Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Health System (PRIHS), a Fund created by Alberta Innovates - Health Solutions (AIHS) and Alberta Health Services (AHS).

"Providing a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans is our primary goal," says Fred Horne, Alberta's Minister of Health. "Improving results through innovative approaches helps us do just that."

"Alberta Health Services is delighted to partner with AIHS to generate knowledge from research that improves how we care for patients, and which benefits the health system as a whole," says Dr. Kathryn Todd, VP for Research, Innovation and Analytics at AHS. "Research is an integral part of health care; it enables us to deliver value for money and health benefits to all Albertans. We anticipated high quality, relevant projects with action plans and we are very proud of the results."

"The Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Health System (PRIHS) Fund demonstrates how innovation can come from within," says Dr. Cy Frank, President and CEO of Alberta Innovates - Health Solutions. "These initial ten projects will demonstrate that we can improve patient outcomes by doing things differently and by using research evidence to drive change."

Out of the 10 PRIHS grants awarded, five went to the U of A, and three went to the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine. Mary Forhan, PhD, from Department of Occupational Therapy, received the Diabetes, Obesity & Nutrition grant alongside Jeffrey Johnson, PhD, and Arya Sharma, MD, PhD. Their research will look at care and rehabilitation for patients with severe obesity in Alberta's tertiary care settings. Dr. Woodhouse, in partnership with Deborah Marshall, PhD, from the University of Calgary, also received the Bone & Joint Health grant for optimizing centralized intake to improve arthritis care for Albertans.