Physiotherapists' views of implementing a stratified treatment approach for patients with low back pain in Germany: A qualitative study

Sven Karstens*, Pauline Kuithan, Stefanie Joos, Jonathan C. Hill, Michel Wensing, Jost Steinhäuser, Katja Krug, Joachim Szecsenyi

*Corresponding author for this work


Background: The STarT-Back-Approach (STarT: Subgroups for Targeted Treatment) was developed in the UK and has demonstrated clinical and cost effectiveness. Based on the results of a brief questionnaire, patients with low back pain are stratified into three treatment groups. Since the organisation of physiotherapy differs between Germany and the UK, the aim of this study is to explore German physiotherapists' views and perceptions about implementing the STarT-Back-Approach. Methods: Three two-hour think-tank workshops with physiotherapists were conducted. Focus groups, using a semi-structured interview guideline, followed a presentation of the STarT-Back-Approach, with discussions audio recorded, transcribed and qualitatively analysed using content analysis. Results: Nineteen physiotherapists participated (15 female, mean age 41.2 (SD 8.6) years). Three main themes emerged, each with multiple subthemes: 1) the intervention (15 subthemes), 2) the healthcare context (26 subthemes) and 3) individual characteristics (8 subthemes). Therapists' perceptions of the extent to which the STarT-Back intervention would require changes to their normal clinical practice varied considerably. They felt that within their current healthcare context, there were significant financial disincentives that would discourage German physiotherapists from providing the STarT-Back treatment pathways, such as the early discharge of low-risk patients with supported self-management materials. They also discussed the need for appropriate standardised graduate and post-graduate skills training for German physiotherapists to treat high-risk patients with a combined physical and psychological approach (e.g., communication skills). Conclusions: Whilst many German physiotherapists are positive about the STarT-Back-Approach, there are a number of substantial barriers to implementing the matched treatment pathways in Germany. These include financial disincentives within the healthcare system to early discharge of low-risk patients. Therapists also highlighted the need for solutions in respect of scalable physiotherapy training to gain skills in combined physical and psychological approaches.

Original languageEnglish
Article number214
JournalBMC Health Services Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27.03.2018


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