Diverse and vulnerable: experiences of private allied health practices managing through the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Implications for the financial viability of Australian primary care
Australian Health Review
Background: The majority of allied health services are delivered by small, private practices in the primary care setting with limited government funding. During the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) lockdowns these practices were subject to the same health orders as any other private business with only 'essential services' permitted to remain open. Research aim: We set out to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and associated public health measures, on the financial viability of private allied health practices. Methods: Thirteen semi-structured interviews were conducted with primary care allied health practice owners and managers in Sydney. Data were analysed thematically. Findings: All of the interviewees reported experiencing the stress of balancing precarious finances caused by reduced and/or fluctuating patient demand. Patients' reluctance to seek care was compounded by ambiguity around whether allied health services were 'essential'. Manual therapies were particularly vulnerable to financial stress because their capacity to transition to telehealth and access to government funding were limited. Conversely, psychologists reported demand for their services exceeded what they could provide. Study implications: The findings are indicative of primary care allied health's peripheral status in Australia's primary care landscape. Greater priority to the funding and integration of primary care allied health is needed in primary care policy.
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