Earlier this year it was announced that physiotherapists will take over routine appointments from family doctors in a bid to cut waiting times at GP surgeries. A new GP contract will see an army of 20,000 practice staff recruited in the hope it will improve access to services. Katie Knapton, founder of PhysioFastOnline – who offer interactive videocall appointments with qualified physiotherapists – looks at what this means for the sector.
I think most of us in the profession have welcomed this initiative, at least in principle, because it acknowledges the vital frontline role that physiotherapists can play in general practice. Musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions are thought to make up as much as 30% of all GP appointments and, in simple terms, by making physiotherapists the first point of contact for patients with these conditions, GPs could dedicate more time to other people. This would help to ease the well documented pressures on general practice and reduce costs. In addition, physiotherapists are the best clinicians to manage MSK conditions and quick diagnosis is key for a fast recovery. We can also help advise on health and wellbeing and have a preventative role that often the GP does not have the time for. Physiotherapists are trained as frontline clinicians, so they are also able to pick up any underlying medical issues that need addressing and help with guidance for appropriate management whether that be referral onto a specialist or medical input.It seems that the general public agrees with me too. According to a poll, conducted by on behalf of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP), almost three-quarters (73 per cent) of people would accept the offer of an appointment with a first contact physiotherapist (FCP) if they were seeking help for a bone, joint or muscle problem. Whereas only nine per cent of those surveyed would decline. It is nice to see that the general public is so supportive.
However, one issue that this initiative doesn’t address is how to provide treatment for people unable to travel to their GP. This could be for a number of reasons such as being unable to walk or drive due to an injury or long-term condition; having other commitments such as childcare; or simply not being able to take the time off work. This is where technology can play a vital role in complementing this initiative.
For example, leading research has found that video consultations are as effective as face-to-face appointments and our experience, at PhysioFastOnline (PFO), is that 3 in 4 people can be triaged, assessed and supported online without any need for physical treatment. The means that our service is accessible to anyone with a screen and an internet connection from the comfort of their home, workplace or even overseas. Appointments are booked online, in real-time, and are generally available same day to swiftly help reduce suffering and concern and, in many cases, promote a quicker recovery time. For me there is no doubt that our kind of service has an important role to play in the future and will perfectly complement traditional physiotherapy.
However, the NHS has long been criticised for its failure to maximise the benefits of technology, but I am hopeful that the appointment of Matt Hancock as Health Secretary may change all this. There is no doubt that the announcement of his ‘tech vision’, which has been designed to help NHS organisations to introduce innovative technologies for the benefit of staff and patients, is a powerful step change. Let’s hope it delivers on its promises.