Improving appropriate imaging for non-specific low back pain

Eyad Al-Hihi, Cheryl Gibson, Jaehoon Lee, Rebecca R. Mount, Neville Irani, Caylin McGowan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Non-specific low back pain (LBP) is a common condition in the USA, with approximately 80% of adults who will have LBP at some point during their life and roughly 30% of the adult population suffering from LBP at any given time. Although LBP is the most common cause of disability in the USA, it often has no identifiable anatomic or physiologic cause. Many patients seeking care for non-specific LBP receive X-rays and other imaging studies. However, for most acute LBP patients, symptoms resolve within 4 weeks and the use of routine imaging may result in unnecessary radiation exposure and add unnecessary costs and wasted time for patients without contributing to patient outcomes. The specific aim of the quality improvement (QI) project was to determine the effect of a multicomponent intervention to enhance the appropriate imaging utilisation for acute LBP to ≥90%. During the first 6 months of the QI project, 191 patients with LBP were seen. Of those patients, 156 (81.7%) received appropriate imaging over the 6-month intervention period, missing our targeted goal. Furthermore, this rate declined to baseline values after termination of the intervention, suggesting the need for additional prompts to sustain the initial intervention effect. Following a health system-wide deployment of practice-based alerts and quality score cards, the appropriate utilisation rate increased again and quickly to the target rate of 90%. To reduce variability in our clinical practice and to sustain an appropriate utilisation rate will require continued work. Health systems must find efficient methods to reduce LBP imaging and increase appropriate management of non-specific LBP in primary care. Increasing concordance with imaging guidelines can lessen harm associated with unnecessary radiation exposure and result in significant cost savings.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere001539
Pages (from-to)e001539
JournalBMJ Open Quality
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 21 2022


  • back pain
  • computerised
  • decision support
  • quality improvement


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