Objective To describe the impact of an expanded primary care-based sports medicine clinic on referrals to an orthopaedics clinic and to describe the patients seen and procedures performed.
Design Retrospective cohort study.
Setting Primary care-based sports medicine clinic and orthopaedics clinic at a tax-supported American safety net healthcare system.
Participants All patients referred to the sports medicine clinic by other primary care physicians over a 1-year time period of July 2006–June 2007.
Main outcome measures The referral rate from sports medicine clinic to orthopaedics clinic, the percentage of referred patients who were recommended surgery by the orthopaedists, the change in average waiting time to be seen in orthopaedics clinic and the most common conditions and procedures.
Results 4925 patients were seen by the sports medicine department; 118 (2.4%) of those patients were referred to the orthopaedic department. Of the referred patients, surgery was offered by orthopaedists to 80 (68%) patients. The average wait for initial consultation by the orthopaedic spine clinic decreased from 199 to 70 days; the wait for general orthopaedic clinic decreased from 97 to 19 days. No single patient complaint or musculoskeletal pathology predominated: knee degenerative joint disease (25.3%), mechanical low back pain (21.6%) and lumbar disc disease (19.9%). Knee injections and epidural steroid injections were the most common procedures performed.
Conclusions Very few patients with musculoskeletal pathology were referred by a primary care-based sports medicine clinic to an orthopaedics clinic. Of the referred patients, sports medicine physicians and orthopaedists frequently agreed on the need for surgery. Expansion of a primary care-based sports medicine service could help relieve overburdened orthopaedics departments of patients with conditions not requiring surgery.
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Ethics approval Ethics approval was provided by the JPS Health Network IRB.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.