Publications by authors named "Emma L Karran"

13 Publications

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Same room - different windows? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the relationship between self-report and neuropsychological tests of cognitive flexibility in healthy adults.

Clin Psychol Rev 2021 08 26;88:102061. Epub 2021 Jun 26.

Innovation, Implementation & Clinical Translation (IIMPACT) in Health, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia. Electronic address:

Cognitive flexibility can be thought of as the ability to effectively adapt one's cognitive and behavioural strategies in response to changing task or environmental demands. To substantiate the common inference that self-report and neuropsychological tests of cognitive flexibility provide 'different windows into the same room', we undertook a systematic review and meta-analysis to determine whether self-report and neuropsychological tests of cognitive flexibility are related in healthy adults. Ten databases and relevant grey literature were searched from inception. The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines were adhered to. Twenty-one articles satisfied our inclusion criteria. A multi-level random-effects meta-analysis revealed no relationship (0.05, 95% CI = -0.00 to 0.10). Random-effects meta-analyses raised the possibility that the Cognitive Flexibility Scale and the Trail Making Test - part B (time) may be related (0.19, 95% CI = 0.06 to 0.31). We conclude that the relationship between self-report and neuropsychological tests of cognitive flexibility is not large enough to be considered convincing evidence for the two assessment approaches sharing construct validity. These results have clear implications for assessing and interpreting cognitive flexibility research and clinical practice.
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August 2021

Implementing high value back pain care in private physiotherapy in Australia: A qualitative evaluation of physiotherapists who participated in an "implementation to innovation" system.

Can J Pain 2020 May 18;4(1):86-102. Epub 2020 May 18.

IIMPACT in Health, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia.

: Many barriers exist to delivering high-value care for people with low back pain (LBP). We have developed a multistrategy implementation system to overcome these barriers. Here we describe a qualitative evaluation of the experiences of private-sector physiotherapists implementing the system. : PRISM (Practice-based innovation and implementation system) is an iterative clinician-as-scientist implementation program, tailored here for acute and subacute LBP. PRISM integrates strategies from behavioral change, implementation, and educational science fields. Semistructured interviews, group discussion forums, and electronic questionnaires were used to collect data at multiple time points that were then analyzed using an interpretative descriptive approach. : Six physiotherapists (purposive sample) practicing in private practice physiotherapy clinics in the Adelaide region, South Australia, were enrolled in the study. : Interventions included an educational pain science and care workshop incorporating self-regulated learning principles, a co-planned clinical pathway, an electronic decision support tool, development and support of a community of practice, case study simulations, audit and feedback, and collaborative problem solving and innovation for physiotherapists. : Participants' experiences and perceptions centered around five themes: (1) knowledge and skills training; (2) networking and mentoring; (3) a clear clinical pathway; (4) practical tools; and (5) data feedback. Participants appraised the implementation process positively but identified patient receptiveness as a challenge at times. Suggestions for improvement included streamlining/automating data collection forms and processes and providing more simulation opportunities. : PRISM appears to be a promising approach to overcoming several barriers that prevent people with back pain from receiving high-value care. It consolidates and increases pain science knowledge and increases physiotherapist confidence in delivering high-value care. It appears to legitimize some current practices, enhance clinical reasoning and communication skills, extend knowledge in line with contemporary pain science, and facilitate the application of a biopsychosocial management approach. The high-level acceptance by participants provides a foundation for further research to test outcomes and delivery in different settings. A quality improvement intervention designed to improve delivery of high-value care was well received by private practice physiotherapists.Physiotherapists particularly valued using experiential learning to improve fluency in communicating with, and educating patients about, contemporary pain science.A structured clinical pathway and tools guided physiotherapists on the basic elements of necessary care and allowed them to concentrate on higher levels of decision making and communication with patients.
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May 2020

A pain science education and walking program to increase physical activity in people with symptomatic knee osteoarthritis: a feasibility study.

Pain Rep 2020 Sep-Oct;5(5):e830. Epub 2020 Sep 24.

Centre for Health, Exercise and Sports Medicine, Department of Physiotherapy, The University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Introduction: Nine of 10 people with knee osteoarthritis are inactive. Unhelpful pain beliefs may negatively influence physical activity levels. Targeting these unhelpful pain beliefs, through contemporary pain science education (PSE), may provide benefit.

Objectives: To evaluate the feasibility of conducting a clinical trial to determine the effect of adding PSE (vs adding sham ultrasound) to an individualised, physiotherapist-led education and walking program in people with painful knee osteoarthritis.

Methods: Twenty participants were randomised (1:1) into the PSE group or Control group, each receiving 4 in-person weekly treatments, then 4 weeks of at-home activities (weekly telephone check-in). Clinical outcomes and physical activity (7 days of wrist-worn accelerometry) were assessed at baseline, 4 (clinical outcomes only), 8, and 26 weeks. feasibility criteria for recruitment, intervention adherence, viability of wrist-based accelerometry, and follow-up retention were set. Perceived intervention credibility, acceptability, and usefulness from participants and clinicians were assessed (ratings, written/verbal feedback).

Results: Most feasibility criteria were met. On average, 7 adults/wk were eligible, with 70% recruited. Treatment compliance was high (in-person: 80% PSE; 100% Control; at-home: 78% PSE; 75% Control). Wrist-based accelerometry had >75% valid wear-time. Sufficient follow-up rates were not achieved (26 weeks: 65%). Participant and clinician feedback highlighted that PSE was too complex and did not match patient expectations of "physiotherapy", that sham ultrasound was problematic (clinician), but that both treatments had high credibility, acceptability, and usefulness.

Conclusions: Progression to a full trial is warranted. Strategies to increase participant retention, refine the PSE content/delivery, and replace/remove the sham intervention are required.
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September 2020

Low back pain and the social determinants of health: a systematic review and narrative synthesis.

Pain 2020 11;161(11):2476-2493

IIMPACT in Health, UniSA: Allied Health and Human Performance, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia.

The social determinants of health (SDH) are known to differentially impact outcomes from many noncommunicable diseases; however, their potential role in low back pain (LBP) is poorly defined. This review endeavours to comprehensively inform the field of their relevance. Our research question was: "How do the broad range of SDH and chronic LBP (CLBP) relate?" The primary aim of this review was to synthesise evidence of relationships between SDH and the frequency or severity of CLBP. Secondary aims were to identify relationships between SDH and LBP-related disability, work absenteeism, and opioid prescription. We included studies involving adult participants that evaluated relationships between one or more of the SDH and CLBP frequency or LBP outcomes (beyond 3 months). Two reviewers screened studies, extracted data, and assessed risk of bias. We synthesized the results narratively and applied PROGRESS to organise our findings. Database searches identified 7018 records. Forty-one studies were included, containing data from 2,161,617 adults from 17 countries. Twenty-four percent and 19% of the relationships included were classified as having a high risk of bias due to confounding and missing data, respectively. We reported 166 relationships representing the majority of the PROGRESS domains. An array of independent and interdependent relationships between the SDH and CLBP were identified with the strongest evidence for associations related to educational attainment and socioeconomic status. Our findings suggest that greater recognition of the contribution of SDH to disparities in LBP outcomes is warranted and this has the potential to usefully inform strategies to impact burden.
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November 2020

An online investigation into the impact of adding epidemiological information to imaging reports for low back pain.

Scand J Pain 2019 07;19(3):629-633

University of South Australia, School of Health Sciences, Adelaide, Australia.

Degenerative changes commonly feature on spinal images and are often identified in the imaging reports of pain-free individuals. Many of these findings relate to "normal" age-related characteristics, however are frequently interpreted as implying abnormality and may adversely influence patient outcomes. The aim of this study was to investigate the impact of adding epidemiological information to lumbar imaging reports in a general adult population. This study was an online, scenario-based, randomised experiment. Participants were presented with a "virtual patient" scenario via an online survey and then randomly allocated to either receive a standard imaging report or a standard report with additional epidemiological information. The primary outcome was a composite "back-related perceptions" (BRP) score. Data from 247 participants (72% female) were included in the analysis. There was a small effect of group on BRP [F(12,444) = 6.75, p = 0.010] with participants who received the additional epidemiological information demonstrating more positive perceptions. Including epidemiological information in spinal imaging reports positively impacted "virtual-patient" perceptions in an online scenario-based study. This finding suggests that implementing a simple imaging reporting strategy may be reassuring and should be further considered for its potential to positively impact patient outcomes. Further research is warranted in clinical populations.
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July 2019

A conceptual framework for increasing clinical staff member involvement in general practice: a proposed strategy to improve the management of low back pain.

BMC Fam Pract 2019 02 21;20(1):30. Epub 2019 Feb 21.

Center for General Practice at Aalborg University, Fyrkildevej 7, 9220, Aalborg, Denmark.

Background: Low back pain affects about 80% of all adults, many of whom consult general practice. Providing management can be challenging, in part due to the scarcity of effective treatment methods. There is broad consensus in international clinical practice guidelines to provide patients with information about the nature of their pain and recommend them to stay active despite discomfort. Delivering this information is time-demanding and challenged by the limited available resources in general practice in many countries. Furthermore, general practice settings are highly variable in size and in their composition of clinical staff members - which presents difficulties, but also opportunities for developing alternative approaches to clinical management. Expanding the patient consultation time by involving clinical staff members (aside from the general practitioner) has been found feasible for other conditions. We propose that this approach is applied for non-specific low back pain. Consequently, we suggest the involvement of clinical staff members as part of a new strategy for managing low back pain in general practice.

Main Text: Multifaceted implementation strategies have the potential to effectively enable change in the clinical management of patients with low back pain in general practice if they are based on theory and are tailored to stake holders. Inspired by the Medical Research Council's guidance for complex interventions and the ChiPP (Change in professional performance) statement, we suggest applying the following two policy categories: organizational change (environmental/social planning) and service provision. This will involve attention to environmental restructuring, modelling, enabling, education, training, persuasion, and incentivising of general practices, with an over-arching strategy of involving clinical staff members in the management of low back pain.

Conclusion: This is a pre-clinical proposal of a multifaceted strategy to support the delivery of evidence-based treatment for patients with low back pain in general practice. As an original idea, we suggest it would be feasible to involve clinical staff members in the delivery of information and advice to patients, whilst the general practitioner remains responsible for diagnostic decision-making.
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February 2019

Low back pain: Can we mitigate the inadvertent psycho-behavioural harms of spinal imaging?

Aust J Gen Pract 2018 09;47(9):614-617

PhD, M Musc Sports Physio, B Physio (Hons), The Hopkins Centre, Menzies Health Institute Queensland, Griffith University; School of Health Sciences, University of South Australia, Adelaide, SA.

Background: Low back pain is responsible for significant personal and societal burden, particularly when it becomes persistent. Despite international consensus regarding the judicious use of diagnostic spinal imaging, patients continue to be over-referred.

Objective: The aim of this article is to highlight the critical need for primary care clinicians to engage in thoughtful use of imaging procedures, and to consider alternative or adjunct methods for providing reassurance, in order to avoid or mitigate the potential negative impact of 'anomalous' findings.

Discussion: While imaging is frequently requested with the goal of reassuring patients, it can paradoxically have a negative impact on patient attitudes and beliefs and can influence pain behaviours. For improved patient outcomes we recommend contextualisation of radiological findings within age-related norms, use of reassuring and non‑threatening language when communicating results, and educating patients on non‑pathoanatomical contributors to pain.
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September 2018

A quasi-randomised, controlled, feasibility trial of GLITtER (Green Light Imaging Interpretation to Enhance Recovery)-a psychoeducational intervention for adults with low back pain attending secondary care.

PeerJ 2018 1;6:e4301. Epub 2018 Feb 1.

School of Health Sciences, University of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia.

Background: Although it is broadly accepted that clinicians should endeavour to reassure patients with low back pain, to do so can present a significant clinical challenge. Guidance for how to provide effective reassurance is scarce and there may be a need to counter patient concerns arising from misinterpretation of spinal imaging findings. 'GLITtER' (Green Light Imaging Intervention to Enhance Recovery) was developed as a standardised method of communicating imaging findings in a manner that is reassuring and promotes engagement in an active recovery. This feasibility study is an important step towards definitive testing of its effect.

Methods: This feasibility study was a prospective, quasi-randomised, parallel trial with longitudinal follow-up, involving sampling of patients attending a spinal outpatient clinic at a metropolitan hospital. English speaking adults (18-75 years) presenting to the clinic with low back pain and prior spinal imaging were considered for inclusion. Eligible patients were allocated to receive a GLITtER consultation or a standard consultation (as determined by appointment scheduling and clinician availability), and were blinded to their allocation. Full details of the GLITtER intervention are described in accordance with the template.Follow-up data were collected after 1 and 3 months. The primary outcome of this study was the fulfillment of specific feasibility criteria which were established . Determination of a sample size for a definitive randomised controlled trial was a secondary objective.

Results: Two hundred seventy-six patients underwent preliminary screening and 31 patients met the final eligibility criteria for study inclusion. Seventeen participants were allocated to the intervention group and 14 were allocated to the control group. Three month follow-up data were available from 42% of the 31 enrolled participants ( = 13, six intervention, seven control). Feasibility indicators for consent, resource burden and acceptability of the GLITtER intervention were met, however participant recruitment was slower than anticipated and an acceptable follow-up rate was not achieved.

Conclusions: Failure to achieve pre-specified recruitment and follow-up rates were important outcomes of this feasibility study. We attribute failure to issues that are likely to be relevant for other clinical trials with this population. It is realistic to consider that these challenges can be overcome through careful strategy, ample funding and continued partnership with health care providers.

Trial Registration: The trial was registered on the Australian and New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry on 28/2/2017 (ACTRN12617000317392).
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February 2018

The impact of choosing words carefully: an online investigation into imaging reporting strategies and best practice care for low back pain.

PeerJ 2017 6;5:e4151. Epub 2017 Dec 6.

School of Health Sciences, University of South Australia, Adelaide, SA, Australia.

Background: Low back pain clinical practice guidelines consistently recommend against the routine ordering of spinal imaging; however, imaging is frequently requested in primary care, without evidence of benefit. Imaging reports frequently identify degenerative features which are likely to be interpreted as 'abnormal', despite their high prevalence in symptom-free individuals. The aim of this study was to investigate whether post-imaging back-related perceptions are influenced by providing prior information about normal findings, and to compare the effect of receiving imaging results with best practice care (without imaging). The impact of introducing novel, 'enhanced' reporting strategies was also explored.

Methods: This study was a simulated-patient, randomised, multiple-arm experiment. Patient scenarios were presented to volunteer healthy adult participants via an online survey. In the scenarios, 'virtual' patients with low back pain were randomised to one of three groups. Group 1 received imaging and was pre-informed about normal findings. Group 2 received imaging (without pre-information). Group 3 received best practice care: quality information without imaging. Group 1 was further divided to receive either a standard report, or an 'enhanced' report (containing altered terminology and epidemiological information). The primary outcome was back-related perceptions (BRP), a composite score derived from three numeric rating scale scores exploring perceptions of spinal condition, recovery concerns and planned activity. The secondary outcomes were satisfaction and kinesiophobia.

Results: Full data were available from 660 participants (68% female). Analysis of covariance revealed a significant effect of group after controlling for baseline BRP scores [Formula: see text]. Pairwise comparisons indicated that receiving best practice care resulted in more positive BRPs than receiving imaging results, and receiving prior information about normal findings had no impact. Enhanced reporting strategies also positively impacted BRPs [Formula: see text]. Significant relationships between group allocation and both satisfaction [Formula: see text] and kinaesiophobia [Formula: see text] were found, with statistically significant pairwise comparisions again in favour of best-practice care.

Conclusion: Intervention strategies such as enhanced reporting methods and the provision of quality information (without imaging) have the potential to improve the outcome of patients with recent-onset LBP and should be further considered by primary care providers.
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December 2017

The reassuring potential of spinal imaging results: development and testing of a brief, psycho-education intervention for patients attending secondary care.

Eur Spine J 2018 01 17;27(1):101-108. Epub 2017 Nov 17.

Body in Mind Research Group, Sansom Institute for Health Research, University of South Australia, GPO Box 2471, Adelaide, SA, 5001, Australia.

Purpose: To develop and test a standardised method of interpreting spinal imaging findings in a manner designed to reassure patients with low back pain and promote engagement in an active recovery.

Methods: A five-phase development and testing process involved collaborative working party contributions, informal and formal appraisal of the intervention content by clinicians and consumers, a two-stage online evaluation of the take-home patient resource, and onsite testing.

Results: A total of 12 health professionals and 77 consumers were included in formal evaluative processes at various stages of the development and testing process. Consumers assessed the revised iteration of the take-home resource to be clearer and easier to understand than the original version. We integrated all feedback and evaluation outcomes to develop the final intervention content, which was approved by experienced clinicians and considered safe. We devised a framework to guide delivery of the low-cost clinical intervention and a 10-15-min timeframe was demonstrated to be realistic.

Conclusions: We have developed, modified, and tested a pragmatic framework for a brief, psychoeducational intervention. We have established face validity and acceptability from key stakeholders and engaged clinicians and are ready to proceed with a pilot feasibility trial.
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January 2018

The Value of Prognostic Screening for Patients With Low Back Pain in Secondary Care.

J Pain 2017 06 30;18(6):673-686. Epub 2017 Jan 30.

Sansom Institute for Health Research, University of South Australia, Adelaide, Australia; Neuroscience Research Australia, Sydney, Australia. Electronic address:

Prognostic screening in patients with low back pain (LBP) offers a practical approach to guiding clinical decisions. Whether screening is helpful in secondary care is unclear. This prospective cohort study in adults with LBP placed on outpatient clinic waiting lists, compared the performance of the short-form Orebro Musculoskeletal Pain Screening Questionnaire, the Predicting the Inception of Chronic Pain Tool, and the STarT Back Tool. We assessed predictive validity for outcome at 4-month follow-up, by calculating estimates of discrimination, calibration, and overall performance. We applied a decision curve analysis approach to describe the clinical value of screening in this setting via comparison with a 'treat-all' strategy. Complete data were available for 89% of enrolled participants (n = 195). Eighty-four percent reported 'poor outcome' at follow-up. The area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (95% confidence interval) was .66 (.54-.78) for the Orebro Musculoskeletal Pain Screening Questionnaire, .61 (.49-.73) for the Predicting the Inception of Chronic Pain Tool, and .69 (.51-.80) for the STarT Back Tool. All instruments were miscalibrated and underestimated risk. The decision curve analysis indicated that, in this setting, prognostic screening does not add value over and above a treat-all approach. The potential for LBP patients to be misclassified using screening and the high incidence of nonrecovery indicate that care decisions should be made with the assumption that all patients are 'at risk.'

Perspective: This article presents a head-to-head comparison of 3 LBP screening instruments in a secondary care setting. Early patient screening is likely to hold little clinical value in this setting and care pathways that consider all patients at risk of a poor outcome are suggested to be most appropriate.
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June 2017

Can screening instruments accurately determine poor outcome risk in adults with recent onset low back pain? A systematic review and meta-analysis.

BMC Med 2017 Jan 19;15(1):13. Epub 2017 Jan 19.

Sansom Institute for Health Research, University of South Australia, GPO Box 2471, Adelaide, South Australia, 5001, Australia.

Background: Delivering efficient and effective healthcare is crucial for a condition as burdensome as low back pain (LBP). Stratified care strategies may be worthwhile, but rely on early and accurate patient screening using a valid and reliable instrument. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the performance of LBP screening instruments for determining risk of poor outcome in adults with LBP of less than 3 months duration.

Methods: Medline, Embase, CINAHL, PsycINFO, PEDro, Web of Science, SciVerse SCOPUS, and Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials were searched from June 2014 to March 2016. Prospective cohort studies involving patients with acute and subacute LBP were included. Studies administered a prognostic screening instrument at inception and reported outcomes at least 12 weeks after screening. Two independent reviewers extracted relevant data using a standardised spreadsheet. We defined poor outcome for pain to be ≥ 3 on an 11-point numeric rating scale and poor outcome for disability to be scores of ≥ 30% disabled (on the study authors' chosen disability outcome measure).

Results: We identified 18 eligible studies investigating seven instruments. Five studies investigated the STarT Back Tool: performance for discriminating pain outcomes at follow-up was 'non-informative' (pooled AUC = 0.59 (0.55-0.63), n = 1153) and 'acceptable' for discriminating disability outcomes (pooled AUC = 0.74 (0.66-0.82), n = 821). Seven studies investigated the Orebro Musculoskeletal Pain Screening Questionnaire: performance was 'poor' for discriminating pain outcomes (pooled AUC = 0.69 (0.62-0.76), n = 360), 'acceptable' for disability outcomes (pooled AUC = 0.75 (0.69-0.82), n = 512), and 'excellent' for absenteeism outcomes (pooled AUC = 0.83 (0.75-0.90), n = 243). Two studies investigated the Vermont Disability Prediction Questionnaire and four further instruments were investigated in single studies only.

Conclusions: LBP screening instruments administered in primary care perform poorly at assigning higher risk scores to individuals who develop chronic pain than to those who do not. Risks of a poor disability outcome and prolonged absenteeism are likely to be estimated with greater accuracy. It is important that clinicians who use screening tools to obtain prognostic information consider the potential for misclassification of patient risk and its consequences for care decisions based on screening. However, it needs to be acknowledged that the outcomes on which we evaluated these screening instruments in some cases had a different threshold, outcome, and time period than those they were designed to predict.

Systematic Review Registration: PROSPERO international prospective register of systematic reviews registration number CRD42015015778 .
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January 2017