The relevance of physiotherapy in primary health care

What is primary health care?

Primary care is the first point of contact with the health care system and is an element within the health care system that focuses on health care services, including health promotion, illness and injury prevention, and the diagnosis and treatment of illness and injury. Primary health care is where the diagnosis of a large majority of health conditions, the identification of problems in functioning and referral to other service delivery platforms need to occur. It is also the care platform where adherence to treatment plans and their progress take place. Promoting all these functions of primary health care ensures that a life course and integrated perspective on care is achieved, which has a positive impact on functioning and quality of life. Primary health care models are effective strategies to improve patient access to needed care while at the same time improving efficiency, coordination, and continuity to ensure health needs are met in the right place at the right time by the most appropriate health care providers.

Establishing physiotherapy within primary care has resulted in high levels of satisfaction among patients and primary care physicians, and improved patient-related outcomes such as quality of life, activity tolerance and health status. Early access to physiotherapy in the emergency department has resulted in shorter hospital stays, decreased wait times to begin active treatment, and consistently equivalent or higher levels of patient satisfaction. Integrating rehabilitation into primary health care can also optimize the outcomes of other kinds of health interventions (surgical or psychological) by facilitating continuity of care that supports full recovery.

Physiotherapy role in this setting  

Rehabilitation provided in primary health care has broader social benefits. Early intervention can reduce the prevalence and minimize the disabling effects of chronic conditions among adults and children, such as managing cognitive decline for individuals with dementia, maintaining movement for those with arthritis, and optimizing functioning for children with cerebral palsy. Rehabilitation provided close to people’s homes enables them to remain in education and in the workforce and remain independent or minimize care and financial supports for longer, leading to associated cost benefits for both the individual and society. In addition, by helping to mitigate the risk of preventable complications and secondary conditions rehabilitation at the primary care level can also help to avoid costly hospitalizations and re-admissions.

Benefits of physiotherapy in primary health care

  • Physiotherapists working in primary health care teams maximize mobility in response to the needs of patients across the lifespan. Physiotherapists help ensure continuity of care for patients and their families across the care continuum.
  • Physiotherapists in primary health care facilitate diagnosis, treatment and management of a variety of acute and chronic conditions, and promote physical activity, increased mobility and function.

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