This study aims to explore the effectiveness of group based stratified care in primary care. Stratified care based on psychosocial screening (STarT Back) has demonstrated greater clinical and cost effectiveness in patients with low back pain. However, low back pain interventions are often delivered in groups and evaluating this system of care in a group setting is important. Patients were recruited from 60 general practices and linked physiotherapy services. A new group stratified intervention was compared to a historical non stratified group control. Patients stratified as low, medium and high risk were offered risk matched group care. Consenting participants completed self report measures of functional disability (primary outcome measure), pain, psychological distress and beliefs. The historical control received a generic group intervention. Analysis was by intention to treat. In total 251 patients in the new stratified intervention and 332 in the historical control were included in the primary analysis at 12 weeks. The mean age of patients was 43 ± 10.98 years. Overall adjusted mean changes in the RMDQ scores were higher in the stratified intervention than in the control arm at 12 week follow up [p = 0.028]. Exploring the risk groups individually the high risk stratified group demonstrated better outcome over the controls [p = 0.031]. The medium risk stratified intervention demonstrated equally good outcomes [p = 0.125], and low risk stratified patients, despite less intervention did as well as the historical controls [p = 0.993].
Stratified care delivered in a group setting demonstrated superior outcomes in the high risk patients, and equally good outcomes for the medium and low risk groups. This model, embedded in primary care provides an early and effective model of chronic disease management and adds another dimension to the utility of the STarT Back system of care.