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Released on June 23, 2011

New clinics are now open in Saskatoon and Regina to improve access to assessment and prompt treatment for people suffering from low back pain.

The clinics are part of the Saskatchewan Spine Pathway, an innovative, made-in-Saskatchewan process that supports family physicians and other primary care providers in the assessment, treatment and referral of patients who have back problems.

"Patients with spine problems often wait too long for access to specialists, diagnostic tests and surgery," Health Minister Don McMorris said. "These two clinics will help change that. They provide rapid, appropriate, patient-centred care and free up surgeons' time for those patients who actually need surgery."

Pathways involve improved, streamlined processes that quickly direct patients to the most appropriate treatment, and care that is coordinated among multiple health care providers. Evidence shows that they improve patient outcomes, result in more consistent diagnosis and reduce the length of hospital stays.

Each year about 10,000 Saskatchewan residents see a primary care provider because of back pain. About 5,000 of these patients are referred to a spine specialist and perhaps an MRI. But about 80 per cent of them do not need surgery and would be better served by having an early assessment and excellent medical supports.

"This new spine pathway is a true win-win scenario for patients and providers," Regina neurosurgeon Dr. Joseph Buwembo said. "It changes the patient journey, by providing patients early access to assessment and support from their family physician, chiropractor or physiotherapist, using a standardized, simplified assessment and treatment process. The spine clinics offer primary care providers and patients additional support and early access to diagnostics and consult if needed, resulting in earlier care and reduced wait lists."

About 36 per cent of all MRIs performed in Saskatchewan are for low back pain and injuries. The new pathway provides a process to accurately assess and manage low back pain, in most cases without the need for an MRI. This year, the pathway's goal is a five per cent reduction in the number of spine patients referred for an MRI. For every 100 people removed from the wait list for an MRI of the spine, the wait time for an elective MRI is reduced by a week.

"This provincial clinical pathway for spine is the first of its kind not only in Canada, but also around the world," Canadian Spine Society President and neurosurgeon Dr. Daryl Fourney said. "It's a great example of the kind of collaborative solutions to the challenges facing health care that we can do in Saskatchewan. This will improve the experience of people suffering with back pain and sciatica by streamlining care to reduce wait times and improving communication between care providers."

The Saskatchewan Spine Pathway is one of several patient pathways which support the goals of the Saskatchewan Surgical Initiative by reducing wait times and helping co-ordinate and improve patients' care experiences. For more information, visit or


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