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First Contact Physiotherapy would reduce pressure on GPs

First Contact Physiotherapy would reduce pressure
Photo: First Contact Physiotherapy would reduce pressure on GPs
Australia has been urged to adopt a First Contact Physiotherapy (FCP) model in order to relieve the pressure being experienced by General Practitioners.

“GPs have been extremely overloaded with telehealth appointments, concerned patients, vaccinations, extended hours,” says psychotherapist, Dr Karen Phillip.

“They have been physically, mentally and emotionally impacted.”

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners’ (RACGP) recent General Health of the Nation report names musculoskeletal conditions as the second-most commonly reported reason for patient presentation according to 39 per cent of GPs.

The report, along with recent data released by the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP), also showed doctors were experiencing excessive burnout, as a result of the global pandemic.
These two facts combine, have prompted calls for the Australian Government to invest in integrated and collaborative care.

“Everyone requires time off to recharge physically and emotionally or risk burnout, which we are now seeing from our medical personnel,” says Dr Phillip.

“Where the load can be shared it should be.

“Unfortunately, we seem to have a shortage of GPs especially in our regional areas so these GPs just continue giving all parts of themselves for their community.

“It is greatly concerning,” she said.

That’s why the Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) is calling for greater long-term investment in team-based health care through the establishment of a First Contact Physiotherapy model – to relieve the pressure on GPs and enhance patient outcomes.

“Physiotherapists are ready, willing and able to help relieve pressure on general practice by reducing the burden of care created by conditions readily treated by physiotherapy,” Scott Willis, President of the APA, said.

According to the APA, First Contact Physio provides more streamlined and effective access to diagnosis, treatment, and care of musculoskeletal pain and related conditions.

The model was a UK innovation, and has been deemed a success, relieving pressure on both doctors and the health system, therefore also benefiting patients.

“This model enables access to the right care at the right time from the right health professional underpinned by Medicare rebates while reducing the demand for potentially unnecessary imaging and pain medications,” says Mr Willis.

Under FCP, physiotherapists work directly within General Practice to treat patients with musculoskeletal (MSK) problems, says the APA.

“Patients seeking appointments for MSK problems or conditions can, under strict scope of practice criteria, bypass their GP and seek help directly with a specialist physiotherapist.”

According to pilot studies in the UK, benefits to patients from First Contact Physio include:

•          Faster access to diagnosis, treatment and care for MSK problems
•          Longer more in-depth appointments with fewer ‘pathways’ to medical care
•          Reduced waiting times
•          Enhanced opportunities to address physical/lifestyle issues
•          Higher quality of care
•          Consistent patient satisfaction ratings

The evidence also shows benefits to the UK health system, including:

•          Better time-management for GPs
•          Less strain on GP practices
•          Upskilling of GPs in MSK issues
•          Reduction in prescribing
•          Increased clinical leadership
•          Cost savings from reduction in demand for other services
•          More efficient use of imaging
•          Improved linkages to community and other supports

“Physios understand the stress GPs are under in trying to provide the best health outcomes and the best ‘patient journey’. No one wants to see unnecessary delays and potentially unnecessary referrals and prescribing,” says Mr Willis.

“The First Contact Physiotherapy model is underpinned by appropriately qualified physiotherapists who are able to assess, diagnose, treat and discharge a person without a medical referral – where appropriate.

“In the UK, the roll-out of this model reduced waiting times, relieved pressure on GPs and led to enhanced patient outcomes.

“With 28 per cent of GPs reporting a deterioration in mental health as a result of COVID-19, it really is time for primary care health professionals to leverage each other’s strengths and work collaboratively to support improved patient outcomes and, to ensure our healthcare workforce also remain healthy and able to deliver best quality services.” Mr Willis said.

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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications (www.stellacomms.com) and a children's author.