Influences on Primary Care Provider Imaging for a Hypothetical Patient with Low Back Pain

Hai H. Le, Matthew Decamp, Amanda Bertram, Minal Kale, Zackary Berger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Objective How outside factors affect physician decision making remains an open question of vital importance. We sought to investigate the importance of various influences on physician decision making when clinical guidelines differ from patient preference. Methods An online survey asking 469 primary care providers (PCPs) across four practice sites whether they would order magnetic resonance imaging for a patient with uncomplicated back pain. Participants were randomized to one of four scenarios: a patient's preference for imaging (control), a patient's preference plus a colleague's opinion against imaging (colleague), a patient's preference plus a professional society's recommendation against imaging (profession), or a patient's preference plus an accountable care organization's quality metric that measures physician use of imaging (ACO). Demographic information and the reasoning behind participants' decisions also were obtained. Results A total of 168 PCPs completed the survey, yielding a 36% completion rate. A majority chose not to pursue imaging: control 68%, colleague 85%, profession 87%, and ACO 78%. Multivariate logistic regression revealed that participants were more likely not to order advanced imaging only when reminded of a professional society recommendation (P = 0.017). Regression also suggested that practice site exerted an effect on the primary outcome. Evidence-based medicine and clinical judgment were the most cited reasons for the decision. Conclusions Our results reinforce the potential to leverage professional societies to advance evidence-based medicine and reduce unnecessary testing. At the same time, practice site appeared to exert influence, suggesting that these recommendations must be part of local institutional culture to be effective.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)758-762
Number of pages5
JournalSouthern Medical Journal
Issue number12
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2018


  • back pain
  • imaging
  • professional society
  • shared decision making
  • standard of care


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