Importance Many site-specific, multivariable risk models for predicting the outcome of musculoskeletal pain problems have been published. The overlapping content in these models suggests a common set of generic indicators suitable for use in primary care.
Objective To investigate whether a brief set of generic prognostic indicators can predict the outcome of musculoskeletal pain in older patients presenting to general practitioners.
Design, Setting, and Participants A prospective observational cohort study conducted from September 1, 2006, through March 31, 2007, of consecutive patients 50 years or older presenting with noninflammatory musculoskeletal pain to 1 of the 5 participating general practices in the United Kingdom.
Main Outcome Measures During consultation, the treating physician assessed and recorded 5 brief generic items (duration of present pain episode, current pain intensity, pain interference with daily activities, presence of multiple-site pain, and ultrashort depression screen) and recorded their overall prognostic judgment. The primary outcome was patient-rated improvement, which was measured 6 months after consultation and cross-validated with repeated measures up to 3 years.
Results A total of 194 (48.1%) of 403 participants were classified as having an unfavorable outcome at 6 months. Inclusion of 3 generic prognostic indicators (duration of present pain episode, pain interference with daily activities, and presence of multiple-site pain) in the prognostic model improved on reliance on physicians' prognostic judgment alone (C statistic = 0.72 vs 0.62; net reclassification index = 0.136; proportion correctly classified = 69%). The improvement in prognostic accuracy was attributable to correcting physicians' tendency toward overoptimistic expectations of outcome.
Conclusions and Relevance Three easy-to-obtain pieces of information followed by systematic recording of the general practitioners' prognostic judgment provide a simple generic assessment of prognosis at point of care in older persons presenting with musculoskeletal problems to primary care practices in the United Kingdom. Such an assessment offers a common foundation for investigating the usefulness of prognostic stratification for guiding management in the consultation across a range of common painful conditions.