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Effective online physiotherapy treatment prompts calls for Medicare change

Australian Physiotherapy Association president Phi
Photo: Australian Physiotherapy Association president Phil Calvert
New research shows online physiotherapy treatment can significantly improve the symptoms and functioning for people with knee osteoarthritis.

Under the University of Melbourne research, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, participants received seven Skype sessions with a physiotherapist to learn home exercises, and also completed a three-month online pain-coping skills training program.

Compared to the control group, which only received access to internet educational materials, the online treatment group reported a substantial improvement in their pain, function and quality of life at the three and nine month marks.
“Currently many people with this condition are not receiving key treatments but are relying on drugs, which have serious side effects, and costly surgery,” Professor Kim Bennell, of the Department of Physiotherapy, said.

“About 30,000 Australians have knee replacement surgery each year, so helping people to better self manage can significantly reduce the need for surgery and drugs.”

Professor Bennell said the traditional model of visiting a health professional is not practical for rural and remote patients or patients with mobility problems.

She urged the private and public health systems to consider expanding their services to include online treatment delivery models that promote self-management of chronic knee pain through exercise as well as training in pain coping skills.

Knee osteoarthritis is a debilitating condition estimated to affect almost one million Australians, particularly people aged 45 years and over and those who are overweight or obese.

Under current rules, online physiotherapy for treatment for osteoarthritis is not covered under Medicare.

The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) is calling for the government, as part of its review of the Medicare Benefits Schedule, to change the rules to enable reimbursement for health consultations regardless of whether consultations are conducted in-person or online.

Private health insurers should also cover online treatments to ensure affordable and equitable health care, right across the nation, for all Australians, the peak body for physiotherapists states.

APA president Phil Calvert said physiotherapists welcome opportunities through technology to provide important care to more people, especially those in rural and remote areas.

“Unfortunately, these types of consultations are not currently recognised by Medicare and private health insurers,” he said.

“We would like to see funding barriers to further access removed, so more Australians can have access to the quality physiotherapy care they need without delay.”


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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