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How Allied Health practices are evolving to serve you better

While other industries have been successful at making customer journeys as seamless as possible, the health sector has been slower to adopt and embrace technological innovation and change to make things easier for patients, writes Cris Massis.

For example, many patients still need to call separate receptions in traditional surgical and hospital-based settings to make three different bookings to see a physiotherapist, chiropractor or psychologist – three common specialities needed after an accident, rather than deal with one contact for complementary services and provide them in settings that better suit you.

However, primary healthcare provision is evolving to more holistically provide services focussed on your sustained well-being. The focus is on multi-disciplinary health services that improve wellness and provide preventative care and rehabilitation services.

At $10.8 billion, Australia’s allied health sector is growing at 3.3% annually to cater to the rapidly growing demand from an ageing population, National Disability Insurance Scheme, increasingly health-conscious consumers, and the desire for wellness improvement programs.

Allied health services such as physiotherapy, chiropractic, osteopathy, exercise physiology, podiatry, occupational therapy, dietetics, psychology and mental health are ideally placed to assist as the sector starts to emphasise healthy lifestyle and independence; whether that is physically, psychologically, cognitively or socially.

And it will be more convenient to access them. They will be grouped appropriately to enhance and maintain the function of patients within a range of settings including hospitals, private practice, community health, remotely and in-home care.

Larger networks of allied health practices are being brought together to offer a centralised and collaborative service environment. This addresses traditional disconnects between allied health professionals and GPs by creating facilities that connect health specialists closer with the source of information, removing confusion and miscommunication that can delay treatment.

Centralised groups of complementary practices also make patient triage easier, allowing for shorter wait times and higher quality care. If a GP refers a patient to a physiotherapist, when they need an osteopath, the patient can be quickly triaged to the health professional that is more suitable to their needs. Alternatively, if a patient needs multiple services, they can simultaneously be consulted by multiple health professionals to work out the most effective treatment that takes all factors expertise into account.

The impact of COVID-19 has placed technology at the front and centre of future-proofed health practices, propelling telehealth initiatives forward and providing an opportunity for clinics to use technology to maintain and improve patient health during the pandemic.

Large parts of allied health services are now being offered remotely as part of the national telehealth initiative, providing patients with access to their required expertise. Chiropractors and physiotherapists can provide video overviews for home-exercise regimes, providing feedback on visual exercise tests during telehealth sessions, online group exercise classes are conducted for elderly patients and services such as psychology and mental health have been conducted largely via video.

Additionally, telehealth has been used to triage services to identify which elements can be provided remotely and determine if patients need to physically come into practices to see a practitioner face to face. This has saved patients time, effort and reduced the risk associated with human contact during the pandemic.

However, technology is not limited to telehealth. Health trackers, wearables and sensors are providing immediate and actionable insight into individuals’ lives, giving understanding to allied health professionals that otherwise may not have been possible. Cognitive stress, physical exertion and physiological aspects of the body can be monitored with a granular level of understanding to identify and diagnose patient conditions.

While there are certainly challenges to be faced and more innovation to be embraced in the allied health sector, the practice of the future is progressing, with many aspects already a reality in Australia.

The shift to a patient-centered approach is inevitable and will ultimately result in superior health and wellbeing for you, our patients.

Cris Massis is the CEO of Advent Health.

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