March 9, 2023

Digital care pathway for patients with back pain

Dr Adam Semciw, Associate Professor of Allied Health, was recently awarded funding from the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) to develop a digital care pathway for patients attending the Emergency Department (ED) with back pain.

In collaboration with the Northern Health Allied Health Department, the Clinical Leadership, Effectiveness and Outcomes (CLEO) team and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University, $149,000 has been allocated as part of the TAC’s Value-Based Healthcare Grant towards Dr Semciw’s project – ‘Co-design, implementation and evaluation of an innovative digital care pathway for patients presenting to the Emergency Department with back pain.’

“Back pain is a debilitating condition affecting one in six Australians, and is the second leading cause of disease burden,” Dr Semciw said.

“Our research responds to the urgent need for cost-effective, accessible, inclusive digital solutions in healthcare. Our study aims to co-develop, implement and evaluate a digital care pathway for back pain patients, including transport accident victims, who present to the ED at Northern Health, and are seen in our Northern Health Back Pain Hot Clinic.”

The project will undertaken in two phases, with phase one involving co-design and development.

“We will conduct a series of co-design workshops. Health practitioners, other health system workers and people seeking care for back pain in the ED will be engaged,” Dr Semciw said.

“Workshops will focus on understanding the lived experience of people with back pain and explore the acceptability, barriers, enablers and required adaptions of implementing a digital care pathway. We will also aim to understand the different types of educational resources that patients with back pain may benefit from engaging with.”

Phase two of the project involves implementation and evaluation.

“Patients will be tracked along their care journey and patient-reported outcomes (PROMs) will be collected over 12 weeks. Experiences will be collected from all participants to determine demand and acceptability using surveys,” Dr Semciw said.

“Semi-structured interviews will be conducted on a subset of participants to establish richer information on barriers and facilitators on this digital model of care.”

Approximately 1,700 patients with back pain present to the Northern Hospital Epping ED each year. Dr Semciw says the project will enable healthcare providers to work together with patients to determine an individualised treatment plan, which can potentially lead to faster and better recovery from low back pain.

“Patients with back pain are notoriously difficult to manage for a number of reasons, including the need to assess for and exclude life-threatening causation such as a ruptured aortic aneurism,” he said.

“Gaining more insight into what matters for patients is a key focus for this collaboration. Having more objective data on this will allow us to tailor further resources accordingly.”

The multi-disciplinary and multi-institution collaboration between the Allied Health Department and CLEO team at Northern Health, and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University is an important aspect of the project.

“An innovative back pain clinic developed and run by Northern Health Physiotherapists Tom Collins and Nicole Alousis, provides a fantastic opportunity to develop and test such a platform, and aligns with a priority patient group for the TAC,” Dr Semciw said.

“They have teamed up with Dr Katharine See and Tracey Webster from the recently established CLEO team at Northern Health. The CLEO team have experience rolling out digital care pathways across other departments in Northern Health. Rounding out the team are our professional researchers and evaluators including myself as well as Dr Matthew King who formerly served on the clinical panel at the TAC, and our expert back pain researcher, Associate Professor Andrew Hahne. We have recently employed a Research Assistant (Milly Bell, La Trobe U) who will use her qualitative research experience during focus groups and workshops.”

“Together, we were able to develop a plan for implementation that was funded by the TAC.”

Featured image: L-R back row: Professor Andrew Hahne, Physiotherapy Discipline Lead and expert Back Pain Researcher, La Trobe University, Milly Bell, Research Assistant for BackTrac, La Trobe University, Dr Matthew King, Lecturer in Physiotherapy, La Trobe University, Dr Katharine See, Chief Health Outcomes Officer – CLEO, Natalie Tirant Executive Assistance – CLEO

L-R front row: Nicole Alousis, Physiotherapist, Back Pain Hot Clinic, Northern Health (Allied Health), Dr Adam Semciw, Associate Professor of Allied Health, La Trobe University and Northern Health (Allied Health), Elisha O’Dowd Effectiveness & Outcomes Manager – CLEO, Tracey Webster Director CLEO.