Reasons for Repeated Medical Visits Among Patients with Chronic Back Pain


Carol McPhillips-Tangum, MPH: The Prudential Center for Health Care Research, 2859 Paces Ferry Rd., Suite 820, Atlanta, GA 30030.



This study identifies the key motivations of patients repeatedly seeking medical care for chronic back problems.


We conducted one-on-one, in-depth interviews with patients to discuss their experiences with low back pain and its care. To validate our interpretation of the qualitative data, participants were mailed questionnaires listing the themes identified in the interviews and asked to rate the importance to them of each of the themes.


Managed health care plans in Atlanta, Dallas, and Seattle.


Fifty-four patients (37% male, 63% female) who were 25 to 65 years of age and had three or more medically attended episodes of low back pain during the 3 years preceding the study.


In describing their motivations for seeking medical care for back pain, nearly all participants cited difficulty in performing normal activities and the desire to discover the cause of the pain. Other motivations for seeking medical care for back pain included increased pain and the desire for a diagnostic test or a new treatment. Many of the verbalized reasons for repeated medical visits among patients with chronic back pain are probably best understood as seeking validation of their suffering.


Patients with chronic back pain report many unmet needs and expectations. Overall satisfaction might be improved if clinicians elicit patients’ views of underlying causes and their expectations from office visits.


back pain; low back pain; chronic pain; repeated medical visits.