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Letter to the Editor

Abstract

In the article Perceptions of physiotherapists about their role in health promotion at an acute hospital: a qualitative study [1 authors Walkeden and Walker suggest that physiotherapists are in a unique position to undertake health promotion because of their relatively frequent and prolonged patient contact time. They also highlight the need for the physiotherapy profession to broaden its health promotion role to meet the “challenges of healthcare in the 21st century” [1, p. 227. One of the greatest emerging health challenges is climate change. Scientific opinion is now almost unanimous regarding the impact of greenhouse gas emissions on climate and public health implications are a recent focus [2. Current climate modeling systems indicate that globally we will face rising temperatures, increased frequency of extreme weather events and increased air pollution [[2][3][4]].

Heatwaves are associated with increased mortality and morbidity due to heatstroke and exacerbation of underlying health conditions such as cardiovascular disease (CVD), respiratory disease and diabetes [3. Most heat related deaths are avoidable so priority must be placed on prevention. Air pollution is associated with exacerbations of asthma, COPD and respiratory tract infections [4. Certain groups are more vulnerable than others to the impacts of heat and air pollution. At higher risk are the elderly, people with chronic diseases such as CVD and respiratory conditions, those with decreased mobility, the socially isolated, those in low socioeconomic groups and children [[3][4]]. Physiotherapists already have frequent contact with these vulnerable groups and this will increase as health impacts rise.

As a profession we recognize our role in health promotion issues such as smoking and physical activity [1. Climate change presents us with new health promotion challenges. In future, physiotherapists could play a role in education regarding impacts of heat and air pollution, adaptation and prevention strategies. Physiotherapists may also assist in identifying those most at risk and in the case of an event such as a heatwave, could undertake interventions like check calls/visits and implementing risk reduction strategies to the most vulnerable.

The challenges highlighted in the article [1, such as lack of time, lack of knowledge and the ability to think beyond discharge are equally relevant to this new area of health promotion. Education institutions and workplaces must raise awareness and equip therapists with the knowledge and skills required. We have a unique opportunity to widen our scope of practice and play a key role in addressing this pressing 21st century health challenge.

Conflict of interest

None declared.

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