Purpose: To evaluate the feasibility of regional physical therapy networks including continuing education in rheumatology. The aim of these networks was to improve care provided by primary care physical therapists by improving specific knowledge, technical and communicative skills and the collaboration with rheumatologists.
Methods: In two regions in The Netherlands continuing education (CE) programmes, consisting of a 5-day postgraduate training course followed by bimonthly workshops and teaching practices, were organised simultaneously. Network activities included consultations, newsletters and the development of a communication guideline. Endpoint measures included the participation rate, compliance, quality of the CE programme, teaching practices, knowledge, network activities, communication, number of patients treated and patient satisfaction.
Results: Sixty-three physical therapists out of 193 practices (33%) participated in the project. They all completed the education programmes and were formally registered. All evaluations of the education programmes showed positive scores. Knowledge scores increased significantly directly after the training course and at 18 months. A draft guideline on communication between physical therapists and rheumatologists was developed, and 4 newsletters were distributed. A substantial proportion of physical therapists and rheumatologists reported improved communication at 18 months. The mean number of patients treated by physical therapists participating in the networks increased significantly. Patients' satisfaction scores within the networks were significantly higher than those from outside the networks at 18 months.
Conclusions: Setting up a system of networks for continuing education for physical therapists regarding the treatment of patients with rheumatic diseases is feasible. Further research will focus on the effectiveness of the system and its implementation on a larger scale.