Documentation of Red Flags by Physical Therapists for Patients with Low Back Pain

Pamela J. Leerar, William Boissonnault, Elizabeth Domholdt, Toni Roddey

The comprehensiveness of physical therapists' adherence to the guidelines for red lag documentation for patients with low back pain has not previously been described. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to describe that comprehensiveness. Red flags are warning signs that suggest that physician referral may be warranted. Clinic charts for 160 patients with low back pain seen at 6 outpatient physical therapy clinics were retrospectively reviewed, noting the presence or absence of 11 red flag items. Seven of the 11 red flag items were documented over 98% of the time. Most charts (96.3%) had at least 64% of the red flag items documented. Documentation of red flags was comprehensive in some areas but lacking in others. Red flags that were regularly documented included age over 50, bladder dysfunction, history of cancer, immune suppression, night pain, history of trauma, saddle anesthesia, and lower extremity neurological deficit. The red flags not regularly documented included weight loss, recent infection, and fever/chills. Factors influencing item documentation comprehensiveness are discussed, and suggestions are provided to enhance the completeness of recording patient examination data. The study results provide a red flag documentation benchmark for clinicians working with patients with low back pain and they lay the groundwork for future research.

The Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy Vol. 15 No. 1 (2007), 42-49

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