Background. The primary objective of this pilot study is to understand the relationship between physicians' characteristics and physicians' management decisions about pain. The secondary aim is to understand how patient characteristics, including race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status (SES) may affect these treatment decisions in chronic low back pain.
Methods. We conducted a double-blinded randomized controlled study using a survey instrument. Ninety physicians were randomly allocated one of two scenarios of a patient with chronic low back and lower extremity pain. In one version, the patient is a Caucasian male with Blue Cross health insurance. In the other version, the patient is an African American male with Medicaid. All other aspects of the survey scenarios are identical. The physicians were subsequently presented with questionnaires about their treatment plans. We analyzed the physician demographic variables in addition to patient ethnicity and SES to differentiate which variables affected treatment preferences.
Results. Based on bivariate analysis, physician specialty, gender, ethnicity, and professional status significantly affected treatment plans, including analgesic prescription and referrals for invasive therapy. Patient ethnicity/SES trended toward significance for the prescription of opioids.
Conclusion. Our study is the first randomized controlled study assessing patient and treatment variables in the management of chronic pain. It suggests that physicians' demographic variables and perhaps patient demographic variables influence pain management decisions.