As primary care practitioners, physiotherapists are ideally positioned to influence Return to Work (RTW) processes for injured workers. Researchers have developed, and started to test new strategies aimed at assisting physiotherapists with this process.

This research was led by Professor Jenny Keating from Monash University's Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences, and correlates to another suite of ISCRR projects that investigated the role played by General Practitioners (GPs) in facilitating to RTW.

For the initial stage of the physiotherapist project, Professor Keating and her team focused on understanding the existing relationship between physiotherapists and RTW. The researchers spoke to practicing physiotherapists and RTW case managers, reviewed existing policy literature, and analysed data in ISCRR's Compensation Research Database (CRD).

The research identified the facilitators and barriers to develop a new training program, to help physiotherapists deliver best practice services to injured workers.

Where to now?

This project has now finished. The final report identifies the following factors as impacting on physiotherapists' ability to facilitate timely RTW:

  • Injured worker attitudes
  • The workplace
  • Unified targets and positive approaches to care by all stakeholders
  • System delays
  • Inappropriate certification of capacity
  • Communication skills
  • Knowledge of the Victorian compensation system.

Based on these factors, the researchers developed an online education program for physiotherapists, consisting of a range of resources.

This program has so far been used by 988 physiotherapists. Users have responded positively to the program, reporting a marked improvement in their understanding of the clinical framework and relevant TAC and WorkSafe policy and procedures, as well as their ability to adhere to the Early Intervention Physiotherapist Framework policy and correctly complete certificates of capacity for injured compensable clients.

Early analysis of CRD claims data by the researchers suggests that this program is also delivering positive results in terms of RTW rates. If this is confirmed over a sustained period, this program will be appropriate for a randomised controlled trial, perhaps in additional Australian jurisdictions. It could also be implemented in the final year of professional entry-level education to enhance the knowledge of new physiotherapy graduates entering the workforce.