An innovative commissioning pathway has recently been introduced in the United Kingdom allowing chiropractic organizations to provide state-funded chiropractic care to patients through referral from National Health Service (NHS) primary care physicians. The purpose of this study was to examine the outcomes of NHS and private patient groups presenting with musculoskeletal conditions to chiropractors under the Any Qualified Provider scheme and compare the clinical outcomes of these patients with those presenting privately. A prospective cohort design monitoring patient outcomes comparing self-referring and NHS-referred patients undergoing chiropractic care was used. The primary outcome was the change in Bournemouth Questionnaire scores. Within- and between-group analyses were performed to explore differences between outcomes with additional analysis of subgroups as categorized by the STarT back tool. A total of 8222 patients filled in baseline questionnaires. Of these, NHS patients (41%) had more adverse health measures at baseline and went on to receive more treatment. Using percent change in Bournemouth Questionnaire scores categorized at minimal clinical change cutoffs and adjusting for baseline differences, patients with low back and neck pain presenting privately are more likely to report improvement within 2 weeks and to have slightly better outcomes at 90 days. However, these patients were more likely to be attending consultations beyond 30 days.
This study supports the contention that chiropractic services as provided in United Kingdom are appropriate for both private and NHS-referred patient groups and should be considered when general medical physicians make decisions concerning referral routes and pain pathways for patients with musculoskeletal conditions.