Stratified care involves subgrouping patients based on key characteristics, e.g. prognostic risk, and matching these subgroups to early treatment options. The STarT-MSK programme developed and tested a new stratified primary care intervention for patients with common musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions in general practice. Stratified care involves changing General Practitioners’ (GPs) behaviour, away from the current ‘stepped’ care approach to identifying early treatment options matched to patients’ risk of persistent pain. Changing healthcare practice is challenging, and to aid the successful delivery of stratified care, education and support for GPs was required. This paper details the iterative development of a clinician support package throughout the lifespan of the programme, to support GPs in delivering the stratified care intervention. We argue that clinician support is a crucial aspect of the intervention itself, which is often overlooked.
Qualitative research with patients and GPs identified barriers and facilitators to the adoption of stratified care, which were mapped onto the Theoretical Domains Framework (TDF). Identified domains were ‘translated’ into an educational paradigm, and an initial version of the support package developed. This was further refined following a feasibility and pilot RCT, and a finalised support package was developed for the main RCT.
The clinician support package comprised face-to-face sessions combining adult-learning principles with behaviour change theory in a multimethod approach, which included group discussion, simulated consultations, patient vignettes and model consultation videos. Structured support for GPs was crucial to facilitate fidelity and, ultimately, a successful trial. Clinician support is a two-way process- the study team can learn from and adapt to specific local factors and issues not previously identified. The support from senior clinicians was required to ensure ‘buy in’. Monitoring of GP performance, provision of regular feedback and remedial support are important aspects of effective clinician support.
Designing effective clinician support from the onset of trial intervention design, in an evidence-based, theory-informed manner, is crucial to encourage active engagement and intervention fidelity within the trial, enabling the delivery of a robust and reliable proof-of-principle trial. We offer practical recommendations for future general practice interventions.

© 2021. The Author(s).