Management of patients presenting with low back pain to a private hospital emergency department in Melbourne, Australia

Rachelle Buchbinder, Allison Bourne, Margaret Staples, Chris Lui, Katie Walker, Michael Ben-Meir, Alexandra Gorelik, Gabriel Blecher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: Recent studies suggest many patients with non-specific low back pain presenting to public hospital EDs receive low-value care. The primary aim was to describe management of patients presenting with low back pain to the ED of a private hospital in Melbourne, Australia, and received a final ED diagnosis of non-specific low back pain. We also determined predictors of hospital admission. Methods: Retrospective review of patients who presented with low back pain and received a final ED diagnosis of non-specific low back pain to Cabrini Malvern ED in 2015. Demographics, lumbar spinal imaging, pathology tests and medications were extracted from hospital records. Multivariate logistic regression was used to determine independent predictors of hospital admission. Results: Four hundred and fifty presentations were included (60% female); 238 (52.9%) were admitted to hospital. One hundred and seventy-seven (39.3%) patients received lumbar spine imaging. Two hundred and eighty (62.2%) patients had pathology tests and 391 (86.9%) received medications, which included opioids (n = 298, 66.2%), paracetamol (n = 219, 48.7%), NSAIDs (n = 161, 35.8%), benzodiazepines (n = 118, 26.2%) and pregabalin (n = 26, 5.8%). Predictors of hospital admission included older age (odds ratio [OR] 1.03, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.02–1.05), arrival by ambulance (OR 2.03, 95% CI 1.06–3.90) and receipt of pathology tests (OR 3.32, 95% CI 2.01–5.49) or computed tomography scans (OR 1.86, 95% CI 1.12–3.11). Conclusion: We observed high rates of imaging, pathology tests and hospital admissions compared with previous public hospital studies, while medication use was similar. Implementation of strategies to optimise evidence-based ED care is needed to reduce low-value care and improve patient outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-163
Number of pages7
JournalEMA - Emergency Medicine Australasia
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


  • emergency department
  • imaging
  • low back pain
  • opioid
  • quality of care

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