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Strategy for change
Marcus Dripps

Throughout 2013, the APA has focused on showcasing physiotherapy to consumers and the broader community. This has been a deliberate shift for the Association, given the competitive environment in which the profession now finds itself, with significant numbers of other health professionals competing in ‘traditional’ physiotherapy areas of practice. The Board of Directors of the APA has endorsed this strategy.

Women’s health issues have recently been given a high profile in all levels of government and society in general. To leverage this, the APA in consultation with the Continence and Women’s Health group elected to highlight the physiotherapy management of incontinence to policy makers and consumers via a number of means. This has included an application for specific funding under the Medicare system for the management of continence issues by physiotherapists, our latest pre-budget submission, and the recent social media campaign titled ‘What a Waste’.

I have received feedback from some continence and women’s health physiotherapists regarding the ‘What a Waste’ campaign, and the APA has acknowledged their concerns. I am aware that some members expressed discomfort at some of the language used in the campaign. This campaign was not created in isolation; however, we now are looking to enhance support of National Groups to better engage all sections of the membership.

I do not believe there is a fundamental difference of opinion within our profession of the important role that physiotherapists with specialised knowledge in a clinical area play in practice. Whether they are titled or specialist members, the fact is that not all physiotherapists have the skills and expertise to perform all types of assessment or intervention. In no clinical area is this more so than in women's health issues and the management of incontinence.

I am, however, of the opinion that as a profession we are better off having members of the community engage with a physiotherapist than not. This provides an opportunity for a clinician to perform assessments and interventions that are within their scopes of practice, and utilise colleagues with more specialised skills where required and available.

As a clinician, it can often be difficult to put ourselves in the shoes of consumers. Often we assume that how we think is how our patients think. We can believe that our motivations for how we use the health system, and our understanding of the health system, are the same as our patients. This is not the case.

Marketing and communication experts spend much time and money analysing consumer expectations of health services. It is a complex area of research, and one that our profession needs to spend more time understanding.

The APA has always punched above our weight in the public policy space; however, we cannot afford to be complacent. We need to take calculated risks to position ourselves as the profession of choice for consumers in addressing conditions we can treat. At times this may involve creating public campaigns which have high appeal and relevance for consumers, but don’t necessarily resonate with physiotherapists.

The recent ‘Improve Your Move’ campaign is another example, which could be called ‘unashamedly cheesy’ and only profiles the private sector side of physiotherapy. However, next year the campaign focus will be on the public sector and specialisation.

To standout in a competitive environment, the profession needs to refine our key messages based on advocacy communication in conjunction with our traditional approaches which utilise scientific communication. This will help us educate, inform and influence consumers of health services.

APA National President

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