A set of simple questions posed to patients presenting for the first time with musculoskeletal conditions may help GPs effectively predict the likely progression of the disease, according to recently published findings.

The study, conducted by the Arthritis Research UK Primary Care Centre at Keele University, involved 403 patients newly presenting with musculoskeletal disorders, of which 194 were classified as having an unfavourable outcome at 6 months.

The study findings showed that by including three simple questions – duration of the patient’s present episode of pain, whether pain interferes with their daily activities and whether the pain is in one or more joints – into their initial consultation significantly improved GPs’ predictions of the outcome of their condition, compared with reliance on prognostic judgment. Lead investigator Professor Christian Mallen acknowledged that many GPs would ask these questions as a matter of course, but stressed the importance of taking a systematic and structured approach to ensure that key prognostic information is gathered.

The research is published in the online Journal of the American Medical Association Journal, Internal Medicine (JAMA).