PRF and advocacy have your back

 

The Physiotherapy Research Foundation and the advocacy team at the APA came together last year to decide which research topic would be the most beneficial in advocating for the physiotherapy profession. Fortuitously, they settled on telehealth.

 The allocation of grants to emerging and experienced researchers to help advance physiotherapy knowledge and practice is the established province of the Physiotherapy Research Foundation (PRF).

While the promotion and support of these researcher-led activities continues, what may not be so widely known is that in the last year the PRF has expanded its remit, adding a new direction that promises to bolster the evidence that physiotherapy can make a difference.

To that end, the PRF now also assigns funds for strategy-led activities—projects that aim to strengthen APA advocacy efforts by delivering data-driven arguments for the effectiveness of physiotherapy treatments.

This deliberate strategic initiative involves a targeted approach to the funding of research projects, underpinned by collaboration and the need to coordinate evidence and advocacy says Shelley Crowther, senior advisor in the Policy and Government Relations team at the APA.

‘Traditionally, the PRF committee and the advocacy team haven’t necessarily worked together on projects, so much as the PRF has been focused on individual research projects and we’ve had our advocacy platforms. But we haven’t necessarily known how to integrate those, or how to get some benefit from them.

‘It was decided to use the targeted grants in a different way. Instead of researchers applying for the grant on a topic of their choice, the funding was put towards a set research agenda.’

Last year the PRF and the advocacy team fortuitously decided that the PRF-led research should focus on telehealth, ‘on the premise that it would be beneficial for an advocacy perspective for the APA and the physiotherapy profession as a whole,’ says Shelley, who was instrumental in pulling together the Telehealth Advisory Committee.

The committee—consisting of members of the APA advocacy team, representatives from private health insurers, researchers, and practitioners already using telehealth platforms—organised a collaboration with several universities to begin conducting research into telehealth outcomes. Initially, the committee was going to develop rapid reviews and had a timeline for research to present and make a case for this—until the coronavirus hit and everything had to move at lighting speed to ensure that business owners had access to the information they needed to continue to safely treat patients.

Shelley says it is with luck that the topic decided upon was telehealth.

‘Thanks to the work involved in forming the Telehealth Advisory Committee and their expertise, the advocacy team had a lot of background information on telehealth and were able to pool that information together and disperse it among members at the most crucial time.’

Peter Tziavrangos, the national chair of the APA Business Group, has been consulted along the way as the representative of physiotherapy business owners around the country.

The value in having Peter’s involvement is in demonstrating that there is more to consider than just clinical application when it comes to practitioners actually being able to deliver treatment via telehealth.

‘There is the practicality of implementing it in a business setting, as well as it being crucial that we really understand the risks and benefits to the patient and their clinical experience in regards to safety and the quality of treatment being received,’ he says.

Peter has praised the quick action of the committee and the advocacy that has been done for the sake of business owners nationwide. He states that having a deep understanding of the value telehealth has within our healthcare system can only be beneficial.

‘In terms of the effect of COVID-19, there is no doubt things have been accelerated. The implementation of item codes through the NDS, through CTP and work injury insurers and private health funds. Historically we’ve had some barriers to getting those across the line—but credit to those insurers, they came to the party and, at least temporarily, have given access to those item codes for patients to use,’ Peter says.

‘If we can demonstrate the value of telehealth through our experience over the next few months while we have these item codes available to us, I think we’ll be in a much stronger position to lobby and advocate for maintaining them for the right types of patients in the right circumstances. One thing we have observed is that physiotherapists are really good at triaging their patients and individual scenarios to choose who telehealth is appropriate for. And that’s pretty well supported by clinical evidence for its efficacy, which is great.’

That the funding of physiotherapy telehealth services is currently available, albeit temporarily, when it hasn’t previously is a big win,' Shelley says.

‘The downside of this is they’ve [funders] all got a pandemic-related timeline on it. They’re going to ask us for proof that it worked.’ The risk, she explains, is that at the end of the pandemic, funders may say ‘there is no point in us funding this anymore because there is no pandemic.’

This is why private practitioner involvement is so important. Through the joint effort of the advocacy team and the PRF, research is continuing to be conducted though the University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland and Flinders University with a telehealth evaluation project.

The evidence from this research project will demonstrate the value of physiotherapy private practice to the healthcare system and funders.

Rather than being considered a temporary measure for the current times, ongoing funding could see telehealth being used in private practice to expand physiotherapy services and offer patients convenience well into the future.

The final word goes to Jenny Aiken, APA vice president and chair of the PRF committee: ‘This is a great example of how the APA can drive targeted research that has benefit to our members through improving our ability to advocate. By being more pointed, more strategic, in our decision-making about what that targeted grant money should go towards, we can have greater impact for our profession,’ she says.

‘Our collaborative approach also enabled us pull together universities, private health insurers and clinicians, to ensure the research on telehealth was fit for purpose and considered wide ranging perspectives.’ 

We need your help

Your small time commitment will make a big difference. Expressions of interest from physiotherapists working in private practice are being sought to participate in two new digital project initiatives funded by the PRF. You can participate in one or both of these projects.

The ‘Telehealth by physiotherapists in Australia during the COVID-19 pandemic’ project aims to provide evidence that telehealth physiotherapy is safe, effective and valued by consumers to ensure ongoing funding post-COVID-19. It is delivered by a collaboration of the University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland and Flinders University.

The ‘Patient-reported outcome measures (PROMs) data pilot’ will investigate the feasibility of the profession to digitally collect PROMs data on the effectiveness of physiotherapy intervention in private practice. It is managed by the APA with support from Macquarie University.

Private practice evidence is needed so take part to shape the profession and help the future of physiotherapy businesses.

Go to australian.physio/content/expression-interest-prf-projects for more information and to get involved with one or both of these projects. 

Diversity of knowledge

The Telehealth Advisory Committee was established to provide advice on all areas of telehealth. Comprising experts in the area of telehealth, the focus of this committee is on the provision of clinical services through telehealth via methods such as videoconferencing.

Responsibilities include advising the APA on the telehealth advocacy agenda, having input into the development and dissemination of telehealth resources, and guiding current telehealth research activities, as well as scoping and identifying new research opportunities and potential pilot projects.

Members of the committee are:

  • Kim Bennell, researcher, University of Melbourne
  • Karen Finnin, clinician, OnLine Physio
  • Daniel Gilbertson, industry expert, Medibank
  • Rana Hinman, researcher, University of Melbourne
  • Eric Leckie and Travis Monk, clinicians, Online Prostate Physiotherapy
  • Julie Macey, industry expert, HCF
  • Tom McMillan, rural clinician, Physio Plus
  • Sylvia Pfeiffer, industry expert, CoViu
  • Trevor Russell, researcher, University of Queensland
  • Maayken Van Den Berg, researcher, Flinders University
  • Madeleine Wrigley, clinician, The Physio Co.
 

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