Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 13, Issue 5, pp 289–295 | Cite as

Reasons for repeated medical visits among patients with chronic back pain

  • Carol A. McPhillips-Tangum
  • Daniel C. Cherkin
  • Lorna A. Rhodes
  • Christine Markham
Original Articles


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

DESIGN: We conduced 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.

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

PARTICIPANTS: 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.

MAIN RESULTS: 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.

CONCLUSIONS: 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.

Key words

back pain low back pain chronic pain repeated medical visits 


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Copyright information

© Society of General Internal Medicine 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carol A. McPhillips-Tangum
    • 1
  • Daniel C. Cherkin
    • 2
  • Lorna A. Rhodes
    • 3
  • Christine Markham
    • 4
  1. 1.The Prudential Center for Health Care ResearchAtlanta
  2. 2.Center for Health StudiesGroup Health Cooperative of Puget SoundSeattle
  3. 3.University of WashingtonSeattle
  4. 4.Houston Health Science CenterUniversity of TexasUSA

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