Background: Most patients with osteoarthritis (OA) are treated by primary care physicians (in this article, primary care physicians are family physicians and general internists). Objective: To describe and compare the self-reported practice patterns of family physicians and general internists for the evaluation and management of severe OA of the knee, including factors that might influence referral for total knee replacement. Design, Setting, and Participants: A survey was developed and mailed to randomly selected community family physicians and general internists practicing in Indiana. Main Outcome Measure: Self-reported physician practice patterns regarding OA of the knee. Results: Physical examination was the most common method of evaluating OA of the knee. Family physicians were more likely to examine for crepitation, joint stability, and quadriceps muscle strength than were general internists (P<.05). Patients with OA of the knee treated by family physicians were more likely to receive nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or oral corticosteroids and were less likely to receive aspirin, acetaminophen, or narcotics compared with patients treated by general internists. Six patient characteristics were rated as positive factors favoring a referral for possible total knee replacement, 8 characteristics were rated as negative, and 5 were rated as not a factor in the decision about referral. Conclusions: Results from this study suggest that additional research is needed to determine the evaluative techniques for OA of the knee that provide the most useful information for management decisions, the management techniques that maximize patient outcomes, and the criteria that should be used to select patients who would benefit most from referral for possible total knee replacement.
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