Bishop, Felicity L., Smith, Rachel and Lewith, George
Patient preferences for technical skills versus interpersonal skills in chiropractors and physiotherapists treating low back pain
Family Practice, 30, (2), . (doi:10.1093/fampra/cms066).
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Little is known about which characteristics of chiropractors and physiotherapists matter to patients
and influence their preferences when seeking care.
To examine the impact of 4 factors (patient gender, practitioner gender, practitioner specialty –
chiropractor or physiotherapist, practitioner reputation – technical ability or interpersonal skills) on
patients’ choice of therapist to treat low back pain.
Questionnaire-based vignette study in which participants sampled from the general population rated
the likelihood of consulting 8 fictional therapists. Each fictional therapist represented a different
combination of the 3 practitioner factors (e.g. male chiropractor with reputation for good technical
ability). The study was administered as a postal survey to a simple random sample of residences in
one postal town in England.
Respondents (n=657) consistently reported that they considered a practitioner’s qualifications and
technical skills important when choosing either a physiotherapist or a chiropractor; just under a third
thought it was important that a practitioner was a good listener. As hypothesised, female
respondents preferred female practitioners and respondents had a general preference for
physiotherapists over chiropractors. Contrary to our hypothesis, the practitioner’s reputation had
the largest effect on respondents’ preferences and all practitioners with a reputation for technical
ability were preferred over those with a reputation for interpersonal skills.
Similar factors are important to patients whether they are choosing an individual chiropractor or
physiotherapist; patients particularly value information about technical competence. An awareness
of these factors should help primary care providers to direct patients to relevant information and
support their decision-making.
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