The effect of work-based mentoring on patient outcome in musculoskeletal physiotherapy: study protocol for a randomised controlled trial

Aled Williams, Ceri Phillips, Alan Watkins, Alison Rushton

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Despite persistent calls to measure the effectiveness of educational interventions on patient outcomes, few studies have been conducted. Within musculoskeletal physiotherapy, the effects of postgraduate clinical mentoring on physiotherapist performance have been assessed, but the impact of this mentoring on patient outcomes remains unknown. The objective of this trial is to assess the effectiveness of a work-based mentoring programme to facilitate physiotherapist clinical reasoning on patient outcomes in musculoskeletal physiotherapy.

A stepped wedge cluster randomised controlled trial (CRCT) has been designed to recruit a minimum of 12 senior physiotherapists who work in musculoskeletal outpatient departments of a large National Health Service (NHS) organization. Participating physiotherapists will be randomised by cluster to receive the intervention at three time periods. Patients will be blinded to whether their physiotherapist has received the intervention. The primary outcome measure will be the Patient-Specific Functional Scale; secondary outcome measures will include the EQ-5D, patient activation, patient satisfaction and physiotherapist performance. Sample size considerations used published methods describing stepped wedge designs, conventional values of 0.80 for statistical power and 0.05 for statistical significance, and pragmatic groupings of 12 participating physiotherapists in three clusters. Based on an intergroup difference of 1.0 on the PSFS with a standard deviation of 2.0, 10 patients are required to complete outcome measures per physiotherapist, at time period 1 (prior to intervention roll-out) and at each of time periods 2, 3 and 4, giving a sample size of 480 patients. To account for the potential loss to follow-up of 33%, 720 sets of patient outcomes will be collected.

All physiotherapist participants will receive 150 hours of mentored clinical practice as the intervention and usual in-service training as control. Consecutive, consenting patients attending treatment by the participating physiotherapists during data collection periods will complete outcome measures at baseline, discharge and 12 months post-baseline. The lead researcher will be blinded to the allocation of the physiotherapist when analyzing outcome data; statistical analysis will involve classical linear models incorporating both an intervention effect and a random intercept term to reflect systematic differences among clusters.
Original languageEnglish
Article number409
Publication statusPublished - 25 Oct 2014


  • Physiotherapy
  • Musculoskeletal
  • Clinical reasoning
  • Patient outcomes
  • Cost effectiveness
  • Education
  • Mentoring
  • Expertise


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