Patterns of Imaging Requests By General Practitioners for People With Musculoskeletal Complaints: An Analysis From a Primary Care Database

Romi Haas, Alexandra Gorelik, Denise A. O'Connor, Christopher Pearce, Danielle Mazza, Rachelle Buchbinder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Objective: The aim of this study was to examine imaging requested by general practitioners (GPs) for patients with low back, neck, shoulder, and knee complaints over 5 years (2014–2018). Methods: This analysis from the Australian Population Level Analysis and Reporting database included patients presenting with a diagnosis of low back, neck, shoulder, and/or knee complaints. Eligible imaging requests included low back and neck x-ray, computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI); knee x-ray, CT, MRI, and ultrasound; and shoulder x-ray, MRI, and ultrasound. We determined number of imaging requests and examined their timing, associated factors, and trends over time. Primary analysis included imaging requests from 2 weeks before diagnosis to 1 year after diagnosis. Results: There were 133,279 patients (57% low back, 25% knee, 20% shoulder, and 11% neck complaints). Imaging was most common among those with a shoulder (49%) complaint, followed by knee (43%), neck (34%), and low back complaints (26%). Most requests occurred simultaneously with the diagnosis. Imaging modality varied by body region and, to a lesser extent, by gender, socioeconomic status, and primary health network. For low back, there was a 1.3% (95% confidence interval [95% CI] 1.0–1.6) annual increase in proportion of MRI and a concomitant 1.3% (95% CI 0.8–1.8) decrease in CT requests. For neck, there was a 3.0% (95% CI 2.1–3.9) annual increase in proportion of MRI and a concomitant 3.1% (95% CI 2.2–4.0) decrease in x-ray requests. Conclusion: GPs commonly request early diagnostic imaging for musculoskeletal complaints at odds with recommended practice. We observed a trend towards more complex imaging for neck and back complaints.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages10
JournalArthritis Care & Research
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2023

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