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Repaying trust with care
Marcus Dripps

In discussion with the CEO of a major regional health service recently, a comment he made grabbed my attention. He stated that the term ‘care’ has been hijacked by some clinicians, and is being used to describe all clinical interactions; that the technical administration of health services was no longer differentiated from the compassionate aspects of health service delivery.

We all know that most patients assume levels of technical competence in the delivery of services. They assume that clinicians keep up to date on the latest research. They assume that health services are designed and delivered with the highest safety and quality principles in mind. What patients more often talk about in their experience of healthcare is the caring components of the practitioner involved: ‘My physiotherapist really understands the things that are important for me’, ‘My physiotherapist really knows my body and what it takes to help me feel better’, ‘My physiotherapist takes the time to explain things in ways I can understand’. These types of comments are more common than ‘My physiotherapist finished top of her class in her graduation year’ or ‘My physiotherapist has a robust quality improvement process at his practice’.

We need to repay the trust that our patients place in the safety and quality of our services by ensuring that we do stay up to date on the latest research, and that from a clinical perspective our services are delivered as well as we can deliver them. We additionally need to focus on building those aspects of our practice that convey the compassion that most physiotherapists feel to their patients, and ensure that the ‘care’ component always stays at the centre of healthcare.

Under the Physiotherapy Board of Australia guidelines relating to professional development, all physiotherapists must continue to actively participate in continuing education activities. This is appropriate. Most physiotherapists relish the idea of attending a course to expand their knowledge, catch up with colleagues to share ‘war stories’ at a conference or regional group event, and stay up to date with the latest research. But does this alone make us better clinicians in the eyes of our patients?

I believe that we need to actively consider the things we currently do, can do, and want to do that strengthen our capacity to care for our patients. The form of these activities will vary greatly for each and every physiotherapist. It may involve activities with our families, neighbourhoods or communities of interest. It may be volunteering with an NGO or charitable organisation. It may be as simple as being active with a sporting, recreational or religious group that is important in our lives. These types of activities help us to improve our abilities and capabilities to understand the needs of others, and work collaboratively. They can use our existing skills in analytical thinking and problem solving in different ways. They make us well-rounded people in our communities, and improve our capability to care and empathise with our patients.

At the recent celebration of 100 years at the Otago Physiotherapy School in Dunedin, a speaker summed these things up eloquently when he said:

‘Physiotherapists may not save lives, but no profession does more to improve the quality of life of the patients we treat than the physiotherapy profession.’

MARCUS DRIPPS, APAM
APA National President

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