Physiotherapy for injured workers in Canada: are insurers’ and clinics’ policies threatening good quality and equity of care?

Results of a qualitative study
In recent years, significant efforts have been made to improve the provision of care for compensated injured workers internationally. However, despite increasing efforts at implementing best practices in this field, some studies show that policies overseeing the organisation of care for injured workers can have perverse influences on healthcare providers' practices and can prevent workers from receiving the best care possible. The influence of these policies on physiotherapists' practices has yet to be investigated. Our objectives were thus to explore the influence of 1) workers' compensation boards' and 2) physiotherapy clinics' policies on the care physiotherapists provide to workers with musculoskeletal injuries in three large Canadian provinces.
The Interpretive Description framework, a qualitative methodological approach, guided this inquiry. Forty participants (30 physiotherapists and 10 leaders and administrators from physiotherapy professional groups and workers' compensation boards) were recruited in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec to participate in an in-depth interview. Inductive analysis was conducted using constant comparative techniques.
Narratives from participants show that policies of workers' compensation boards and individual physiotherapy clinics have significant impacts on physiotherapists' clinical practices. Policies found at both levels often place physiotherapists in uncomfortable positions where they cannot always do what they believe to be best for their patients. Because of these policies, treatments provided to compensated injured workers markedly differ from those provided to other patients receiving physiotherapy care at the same clinic. Workers' compensation board policies such as reimbursement rates, end points for treatment and communication mechanisms, and clinic policies such as physiotherapists' remuneration schemes and restrictions on the choice of professionals had negative influences on care. Policies that were viewed as positive were board policies that recognize, promote and support physiotherapists' duties and clinics that provide organisational support for administrative tasks.
In Canada, workers' compensation play a significant role in financing physiotherapy care for people injured at work. Despite the best intentions in promoting evidence-based guidelines and procedures regarding rehabilitation care for injured workers, complex policy factors currently limit the application of these recommendations in practice. Research that targets these policies could contribute to significant changes in clinical settings.

Source: Hudon, A., Hunt, M. et Feldman, D. E. (2018). BMC Health Services Research, 18(1), 682.

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