The effect of waiting times from general practitioner referral to MRI or orthopaedic consultation for the knee on patient‐based outcomes
Objectives: The purpose of this study was to test for the effect of waiting time from general practitioner (GP) referral to MRI or to orthopaedic consultation on outcomes of patients with knee problems, and to test whether any characteristics of trial participants predicted waiting time to MRI or orthopaedics.Methods: We undertook secondary analyses of data on 553 participants from a randomised trial that were recruited from 163 general practices during November 2002 to October 2004.Results: Of the patients allocated to MRI, 263 (94%) had an MRI; and of those referred to orthopaedics, 236 (86%) had an orthopaedic consultation. The median (interquartile range) waiting time in days from randomisation to MRI was 41.0 (21–71) and to orthopaedic appointment was 78.5 (54.5–167.5). Waiting time was found to have no significant effect on patient outcome for both the Short Form 36‐item (SF‐36) physical functioning score (p = 0.570) and the Knee Quality of Life 26‐item (KQoL‐26) physical functioning score (p = 0.268). There was weak evidence that males waited less time for their MRI (p = 0.049) and older patients waited longer for their orthopaedic referral (p = 0.049). For patients who resided in the catchment areas of some centres there were significantly longer waiting times for both MRI and orthopaedic appointment.Conclusion: Where patients reside is a strong predictor of waiting time for access to services such as MRI or orthopaedics. There is no evidence to suggest, however, that this has a significant effect on physical well‐being in the short term for patients with knee problems.