Nova Scotia physiotherapists advocating to be in emergency rooms

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Physiotherapists in Nova Scotia advocating to be in ERs
While emergency departments deal with a strain on capacity, allied health professionals are offering assistance. As Megan King reports, Nova Scotia physiotherapists are advocating for their presence in ERs to address social admissions. – Jan 26, 2023

As Nova Scotia’s health-care crisis impacts emergency care capacity, physiotherapists are advocating for a presence in emergency rooms (ERs) to assist with care needs.

“Physiotherapists are positioned really well to just transition directly to the ER as far as our scope of practice goes,” says Stephen Richey of the Nova Scotia Physiotherapy Association (NSPA). “And we actually have the resources available.”

The idea of a multi-disciplinary emergency department isn’t new.

Richey says physiotherapists have been advocating for the presence of NSPA members in ERs for years, and pilot programs have been successful.

“It’s done in a lot of other jurisdictions, even in Canada it’s being piloted right now in Quebec with a lot of success,” Richey says. “Throughout Alberta and Ontario as well. And we see it implemented all through the United States and the U.K. as well.”

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He says the addition of ‘allied health professionals’ to emergency departments would have an almost immediate benefit to the health care system — reducing wait times, repeat visits and opioid prescriptions.

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“Because these are the individuals that wouldn’t necessarily be prioritized from an emergency departments point of view, but do have a need that needs to be attended to.”

There are approximately 700 physiotherapists working in Nova Scotia, half of which work in the private system.

Richey says private professionals would transition well into the public system if offered a position.

“We regularly are in discussion with our members about what they’re most passionate about, what they’d like to see us advocate for on their behalf,” Richey says. “And this is usually number one on the list, and this has been year in and year out.”

A spokesperson for Nova Scotia’s Department of Health and Wellness told Global News by email that, “the roles and responsibilities of healthcare professionals are always evolving to better meet population health needs, and to improve access to care.”

They say that the department is working with partners, like Nova Scotia Health, to ensure “the right employee is performing the right tasks.”

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Richey says the NSPA has been in ‘a lot’ of contact with the health minister, discussing how its members can be best utilized to help.

And if that change is made, he says physiotherapists could make the transition with ease.

“If tomorrow the premier and the minister of health decided to incorporate physiotherapists into emergency departments, as long as the hiring process was quick enough, then you’d be able to have physiotherapists in as soon as within a few weeks,” Richey says.

“The resources are available, the expertise is available and we’ve seen how it can work really effectively in other jurisdictions.”


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