Patterns of chest physiotherapy in Australian Intensive Care Units

J Crit Care. 2004 Sep;19(3):145-51. doi: 10.1016/j.jcrc.2004.07.002.


Purpose: The aim of this study was to identify the availability of physiotherapy services in Australian Intensive Care Units (ICUs) and articulate the roles that physiotherapists and nursing staff play in the provision of chest physiotherapy.

Materials and methods: Telephone interviews with 71 clinical nurse managers and 6 physiotherapists of adult public Australian ICUs were undertaken. A structured interview schedule was developed from a review of the literature and a panel of experienced ICU clinicians and researchers to establish the frequency, components and personnel involved in the provision of chest physiotherapy.

Results: Almost 90% (n = 67) of ICUs had physiotherapists available during the week but over 25% (n = 22) had "on-call" service only on weekends. Less than 10% had weekday (n = 7) or weekend (n = 6) evening physiotherapy coverage. While nurses were involved in the provision of all aspects of chest physiotherapy, physiotherapists were primarily involved in airway suctioning, percussions, vibrations, positioning, and mobilization.

Conclusions: The provision of chest physiotherapy services is often shared between physiotherapists and nurses, however, the actual therapies provided appears to vary depending on the provider. While strong evidence for chest physiotherapy procedures is lacking, the widespread use in the ICU suggests that it is an ideal setting for undertaking clinical research.

MeSH terms

  • Australia
  • Data Collection
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units / organization & administration
  • Intensive Care Units / statistics & numerical data*
  • Lung Diseases / therapy*
  • Nurse's Role*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Physical Therapy Specialty / statistics & numerical data*