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Technology is essential to improving health care in the 21st century

The first reaction of many people with back pain is to visit their local family physician or general practitioner (GP). While GPs see a lot of people with back pain, they also see an enormous range of other health conditions so staying up to date with each condition is a big challenge. What is more, the latest guidelines for treating each condition can be time consuming to navigate for time-poor GPs.

Around 25% of people in the world experience back pain, which can be debilitating and costly to treat. With back pain one of the top ten causes of the global burden of disease, doctors must take advantage of technology to provide better patient care.

Addressing this issue, in 2012 researchers at The George Institute launched a simple way for general practitioners to easily access the latest evidence-based treatment guidelines for their lower back pain patients. A simple online guide, Back Pain Choices assists GPs to diagnose and manage back pain.

Hosted by the Australian National Prescribing Service, Back Pain Choices is the first web-based back pain support tool created for GPs. The guide takes users through a series of four steps.

GPs select the specific symptoms and are given tailored advice for each patient. A personalised information sheet can be printed for patients to take away, which further explains their individual recommendations.

Professor Chris Maher said prior research showed a gap in the management of back pain.

"Our extensive research in the area has shown what treatments work, so we could provide a solution for the problem," said Professor Maher.

"This new tool is a good example of patient-centred primary healthcare and aligns with the Australian Government's vision for primary health care reform," he said.

"Back Pain Choices emphasizes the importance of patient-centred care, health literacy and self management in the 21st century," he said.

"The George Institute worked with GPs to develop the guide, and international experts, including those who authored the US, UK and Australian guidelines, were selected to review the guide before it was launched."

Dr Danny Tang is a Sydney-based GP who consults numerous patients with back pain and refers to a series of different guidelines based on the needs of patients. He has been using Back Pain Choices and says there are several benefits, improved compliance for patients, and it provides an educational tool for GPs.

"It's a simple tool that combines all the guidelines I have learnt through my years of practising into a quick reference guide. Even though I have treated numerous patients in the past and I am fully cognisant of the management guidelines, it helps with my memory retention to advise patients on some points that I may have forgotten.

"It's also an extremely useful tool as a motivator for patients to continue to keep active rather than assuming that bed rest is the key to management of their back pain," he said

Back Pain Choices is supported by an algorithm based on lower back pain management recommendations from evidence-based clinical practice guidelines around the world. It synthesizes recommendations from evidence based guidelines produced by Australia's National Health and Medical Research Council, the UK's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence and guidelines jointly produced by the American Pain Society and American College of Physicians.