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Primary contact physiotherapy in emergency departments can reduce length of stay for patients with peripheral musculoskeletal injuries compared with secondary contact physiotherapy: a prospective non-randomised controlled trial

Abstract

Objective

To evaluate if direct physiotherapy assessment and management of patients presenting to emergency departments with musculoskeletal injuries (primary contact physiotherapy) results in reduced length of stay without any increase in adverse effects compared with secondary contact physiotherapy, where patients are seen by a physiotherapist after initial assessment by a doctor.

Design

Prospective non-randomised controlled trial.

Setting

Three metropolitan emergency departments.

Participants

Adults (n=315) presenting to emergency departments with peripheral musculoskeletal injuries were allocated to primary or secondary contact physiotherapy; 306 participants completed the study. Patients with serious pathology, open fractures and spinal pain were excluded.

Intervention

A single episode of physiotherapy.

Main outcome measures

Primary outcome measures were patient length of stay, waiting time and treatment time. Secondary outcome measures were re-presentations to the emergency department, imaging referrals, patient satisfaction and emergency department staff acceptance.

Results

Primary contact physiotherapy resulted in a reduction in length of stay of 59.5minutes [95% confidence interval (CI) 38.4 to 80.6] compared with secondary contact physiotherapy, with a reduced waiting time of 25.0minutes (95%CI 12.1 to 38.0) and a reduced treatment time of 34.9minutes (95%CI 16.2 to 53.6). There were no differences between the groups in imaging referrals or re-presentations. Patients strongly agreed (≥82%) that they were satisfied with their management, and 96% of emergency department staff agreed that primary contact physiotherapists had appropriate skills and knowledge to provide emergency care.

Conclusion

Experienced musculoskeletal physiotherapists working in emergency departments can be the first point of contact for patients with simple, semi-urgent and non-urgent peripheral musculoskeletal injuries, resulting in decreased waiting times and length of stay for patients without any adverse effects.

Cite this article

Primary contact physiotherapy in emergency departments can reduce length of stay for patients with peripheral musculoskeletal injuries compared with secondary contact physiotherapy: a prospective non-randomised controlled trialNicholas F. Taylor, Emily Norman, Leanne Roddy, Clarice Tang, Anne Pagram, Kirsty HearnPhysiotherapy 1 June 2011 (volume 97 issue 2 Pages 107-114 DOI: 10.1016/j.physio.2010.08.011)

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