November 28, 2018
2 min read

Knowledge gaps, time constraints limit use of OA guidelines in primary care

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Thorlene Egerton

Factors influencing the limited use of core clinical practice guideline recommendations for knee osteoarthritis among general practitioners include knowledge gaps, low confidence and skill deficiencies, time and other constraints, the practitioner’s own perceived role and assumptions regarding patients and their habits, according to data published BMC Rheumatology.

“Over the past few decades, research findings have led to some important changes in recommended management of people with osteoarthritis,” Thorlene Egerton, PhD, MPhil, of the University of Melbourne, Australia, told Healio Rheumatology. “This new approach is now reflected in all recent clinical practice guidelines. However, despite the high prevalence of the disease and the frequency with which primary care doctors encounter it, research also tells us that the care delivered is often inconsistent with this new management approach.”

According to Egerton and colleagues, current clinical practice guidelines recommend diagnosing osteoarthritis using criteria without imaging, and fostering self-management through education, advice on weight management and increasing physical activity.

Factors influencing the limited use of core clinical practice guideline recommendations for knee OA among general practitioners include knowledge gaps and other constraints, according to data.
Source: Shutterstock

“It was clear that we needed to know more about the barriers to practice change that specifically applied to primary care medical practitioners and the context,” Egerton said. “Without this knowledge we could not make informed decisions about how to facilitate change and achieve better care for patients.”

To identify the barriers and facilitators influencing the implementation of these recommendations in primary care, Egerton and colleagues conducted semi-structured telephone interviews with 11 general practitioners in Australia. Part of a larger effort, called PARTNER, aimed at increasing the delivery of recommended knee OA management in Australian primary care, the study focused on general practitioners from the Victorian Primary Care Research Network who saw at least one patient with knee OA per month.

All interviews were conducted by a physiotherapist trained in qualitative interviewing, and later transcribed verbatim and checked for accuracy. The transcripts were then reviewed by two researchers, who generated codes and themes using the COM-B model (Capability/Opportunity/Motivation-Behavior) as a framework.

According to Egerton and colleagues, psychological capability themes included knowledge gaps, confidence to effectively manage OA and skills to facilitate lifestyle change. Physical opportunity themes included system-related factors, including time limitations and patient resources. Themes related to social opportunity mainly centered around influences from patients. Reflective motivation themes included the general practitioner’s perceived role and assumptions about patients with knee OA. In addition, automatic motivation themes revolved around optimism, habit and unease in discussing weight.

The researchers also identified several positive influences on general practitioners’ use of clinical recommendations for knee OA, including the benefits of healthy lifestyle changes for all patients, GP optimism and using a patient-centered approach.


“We undertook a comprehensive investigation of barriers and found that there were many intrinsic and extrinsic factors that could explain why change is hard,” Egerton said. “Of particular interest were the insights into how the new management approach challenges identity and habits, and also that there are important system factors that inhibit management of osteoarthritis as a chronic disease. Our greater understanding of why general practitioners do not, or cannot, change enables researchers, health service managers and policy makers to make more informed decisions about how to intervene and help more people with osteoarthritis receive recommended primary care.” – by Jason Laday

Disclosure: Egerton reports no relevant financial disclosures. Please see the study for all other authors’ relevant financial disclosures.