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Australia's first allied health prescribing training

Lisa Nissen
Photo: QUT Professor Lisa Nissen
A pioneering training program designed to enable allied health prescribing has been launched in Queensland. The initiative aims to pave the way for a radical transformation of how health care is delivered to the community.


Thirteen physiotherapists and 10 pharmacists are participating in the nation’s first allied health education and training program for prescribing.

The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) has created the Allied Health Prescribing Training program as part of a Queensland Health initiative that aims to introduce models of care featuring allied health prescribing.

It comes after the final report from the Ministerial Taskforce on Health Practitioner Expanded Scope of Practice this year outlined a number of evidence-based models of care that expand the scope of practice of allied health professionals, in a bid to address the community’s health care needs.

The report states allied health professionals working in full scope and extended scope roles will not only be cost-effective but will also reduce waiting times in emergency departments and for specialist and surgical appointments, improve patient flow, and maintain and even boost patient satisfaction while achieving positive clinical outcomes.

With the move to podiatry prescribing and QUT’s prescribing course for podiatrists being delivered for the first time this year, QUT was also selected to develop the allied health training program that’s aligned to the NPS Medicinewise Prescribing Competencies Framework as part of the initiative.

Queensland Health, through the Allied Health Profession’s Office of Queensland (AHPOQ) has offered scholarship funding to Queensland Health employees, who also had to demonstrate support from within their hospital and health service for the implementation of the prescribing model as part of a research trial.

Professor Lisa Nissen, the head of QUT’s School of Clinical Sciences, says the training is similar to a corporate education program, not an award course, that’s been specifically designed for the Queensland Health initiative.

“I have set it up like a course but we can’t at this point give them an award, in the future we would like to be able to give people credit for having undertaken it,” she says.

“Because we are running it for the purpose of the pilot for Queensland Health it’s like a high level corporate education program that has been mapped to the NPS competencies.”

Professor Nissen says the program, which she assisted in developing as part of an interdisciplinary team of health professionals, consists of two units - clinical therapeutics for prescribers, and prescribing and quality use of medicines.

The program, a mixture of online learning and interactive seminar teleconferences, also involves 120 hours of learning in practice.

A former hospital pharmacist and current Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) Queensland branch president, Professor Nissen says most participants are expected to complete the program by March next year.

“We believe that we’ve created a very robust program that will create very well prepared people and already it’s challenged the physios,” she says.

“It’s challenged them because they have had to look at drugs other than the handful that they thought they’d have to.

“That’s what it’s supposed to do -  it’s supposed to challenge people to think about the accountability and responsibility that comes with being a prescriber and we don’t apologise for that.”

A Department of Health spokesperson says the program will enable the group of allied health professionals to undertake prescribing trials within a research framework, subject to approval by a Human Research Ethics Committee.

“All allied health professionals undertaking prescribing as part of a trial will have an identified medical officer who will provide support and supervision,” the spokesperson says.

“When prescribing is currently not part of the scope of practice of the allied health profession, credentialing will be required by the local hospital and health service.

“Extending the scope of practice for allied health professionals may be pursued where it enhances the patient journey or improves patient experience and will relate to specific contexts.”

Professor Nissen says physiotherapists will trial prescribing in emergency departments in the area of musculoskeletal conditions, where the evidence for practice is strong, while pharmacists will trial prescribing across a range of areas.

“It’s very obvious sort of scope of practice in emergency departments for physiotherapists where you are looking at not your high trauma categories but sort of those cases that take quite a bit of time in emergency,” she says.

“They could be dealt with by people who have skill sets specifically to manage that kind of presentation, acknowledging that if they could add prescribing for things, like analgesics, that that could free up spaces in emergency departments for some of those other cases to come through.

“For pharmacy, it’s a different sort of mix and we have previously piloted pharmacists prescribing inside Queensland Health in pre-admission clinic and also in a HIV outpatients clinic on the Gold Coast.

“Pharmacists are more aligned to medicines’ use as a profession, you can see areas like emergency for chronic disease patients, pre-admission clinic, chronic disease outpatient clinics, some in oncology, geriatrics - so it’s a broader mix of models of care that pharmacy is interested in prescribing a pilot model for.”

Professor Nissen hopes the training program will form the basis for future courses in allied health prescribing.

“We intend on integrating these courses into our postgrad program so that people could do them as actual enrolled units for award - that is our plan,” she says.

“In a way, it provides the opportunity for us to consolidate things that we’ve learnt and developed in other areas and tailor them to the allied health space.

“It could be speech pathologists, it could be dietitians, psychologists, diabetes educators,” she says.

“There’s an eclectic mix that are on the cusp of wanting to play in this space and we need to have a robust course that can accommodate any of those.”

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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords