Background: Balance impairment is common in multiple clinical populations, and comprehensive assessment is important for identifying impairments, planning individualized treatment programs, and evaluating change over time. However, little information is available regarding whether clinicians who treat balance are satisfied with existing assessment tools. In 2010 we conducted a cross-sectional survey of balance assessment practices among physiotherapists in Ontario, Canada, and reported on the use of standardized balance measures (Sibley et al. 2011 Physical Therapy; 91: 1583-91). The purpose of this study was to analyse additional survey data and i) evaluate satisfaction with current balance assessment practices and standardized measures among physiotherapists who treat adult or geriatric populations with balance impairment, and ii) identify factors associated with satisfaction.
Methods: The questionnaire was distributed to 1000 practicing physiotherapists. This analysis focuses on questions in which respondents were asked to rate their general perceptions about balance assessment, the perceived utility of individual standardized balance measures, whether they wanted to improve balance assessment practices, and why. Data were summarized with descriptive statistics and utility of individual measures was compared across clinical practice areas (orthopaedic, neurological, geriatric or general rehabilitation).
Results: The questionnaire was completed by 369 respondents, of which 43.4% of respondents agreed that existing standardized measures of balance meet their needs. In ratings of individual measures, the Single Leg Stance test and Berg Balance Scale were perceived as useful for clinical decision-making and evaluating change over time by over 70% of respondents, and the Timed Up-and-Go test was perceived as useful for decision-making by 56.9% of respondents and useful for evaluating change over time by 62.9% of respondents, but there were significant differences across practice groups. Seventy-nine percent of respondents wanted to improve their assessments, identifying individual, environmental and measure-specific barriers. The most common barriers were lack of time and knowledge.
Conclusions: This study offers new information on issues affecting the evaluation of balance in clinical settings from a broad sample of physiotherapists. Continued work to address barriers by specific practice area will be critical for the success of any intervention attempting to implement optimal balance assessment practices in the clinical setting.