Question: Can primary contact physiotherapists reduce waiting and treatment times and facilitate faster discharge in Australian emergency departments?
Design: Data on patients treated by primary contact physiotherapists were collected prospectively and compared with historical and concurrent cohorts of patients treated by other clinicians, using diagnosis and urgency.
Participants: Twenty-nine primary contact physiotherapists, working at 10 sites, treated a total of 14 452 patients with musculoskeletal conditions in triage categories 3, 4 and 5.
Outcome measures: Data were analysed for two time periods: baseline (historical control) and implementation (12 to 15 months). A concurrent control cohort within the implementation period was selected using diagnosis (ICD-10-AM) and urgency of treatment (triage category). Waiting time, treatment time, and time to discharge from the emergency department were compared across periods and between cohorts.
Results: Significant differences were found in waiting and treatment times. On average, patients treated by primary contact physiotherapists waited 31 minutes less than those treated by other practitioners and had an average treatment time of 108 minutes compared with 148 minutes. Overall, 93% of patients treated by primary contact physiotherapists and 75% treated by other practitioners were discharged from the emergency department within a 4-hour time period. To address concerns that these results could be due to other differences between cohorts, multiple regression models were used and the results were still significantly in favour of the primary contact physiotherapists.
Conclusion: A primary contact physiotherapist model in hospital emergency departments can reduce waiting and treatment times for patients with musculoskeletal presentations, resulting in better performance in achieving discharge within the 4-hour national target.