Lost in translation? How patients perceive the extended scope of physiotherapy in the emergency department

Physiotherapy. 2010 Jun;96(2):160-8. doi: 10.1016/j.physio.2009.11.006. Epub 2010 Jan 12.


Objectives: To investigate the perceptions of emergency department physiotherapy practice by emergency patients in metropolitan and regional Australia with a view to probing how consumers interpret the place of physiotherapy in such an acute, non-traditional setting.

Design: A qualitative investigation using a descriptive open-ended questionnaire technique was administered to emergency patients in order to thematically analyse their perceptions of emergency physiotherapy practice.

Setting: Case 1 was a metropolitan emergency department in Melbourne, Australia. Case 2 was a regional emergency department in North Queensland, Australia.

Participants: A purposeful, convenience sample of 80 emergency department patients (n=40, Case 1; n=40, Case 2) responded to the open-ended questionnaire.

Analysis: Data were thematically analysed using NVivo software and manual analysis, facilitating constant case comparison, and were reflected upon continually within an interpretivist framework.

Results: Participants at both emergency departments had a general, but limited, awareness of the role of physiotherapy. Among multiple themes identified were six key domains which participants could recognise as being both the role of general physiotherapy and also relevant to the emergency setting. These were sports injury management, musculoskeletal care, rehabilitation and mobility, pain management, respiratory care and management of elderly patients. Discussions also involved those areas that were specific to general physiotherapy practice or emergency department care but which did not overlap.

Conclusions: Participants in this study demonstrated a general, but limited, awareness of the scope of physiotherapy practice. There was strong identification of musculoskeletal-based interventions, with less familiarity with the potential role of physiotherapy in cardiorespiratory and rehabilitative management. Further research is needed on consumer awareness of the broader, less traditional roles of physiotherapy to increase acceptance and familiarity of its extended scope.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude to Health*
  • Australia
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires