Researchers find enabling Australian physiotherapists to refer patients direct to specialists will save millions

27 October 2014

The Australian Physiotherapy Association (APA) is calling on the Commonwealth Government to change legislation to enable physiotherapists to refer patients direct to medical specialists with a Medicare rebate.

It comes as the Australian Health Review has published a paper today on research that finds endorsing physiotherapists to refer directly to specialists will save up to $13 million per year.

Current legislation and Medicare funding barriers means physiotherapists must refer patients to a General Practitioner so that patients qualify for a Medicare rebate.

“The extra doctor visit carries a Medicare cost, takes up the GP’s time and resources, and patients also carry the cost of gap payments. It also means patients must endure the additional inconvenience for having an extra visit,” Australian Physiotherapy Association National President, Marcus Dripps said.

“Physiotherapists are highly qualified and experienced primary contact health professionals who are well respected by GPs and other health specialists as being an important part of the health system. GPs currently refer more patients to physiotherapists than any other single group.

“Expanding the scope of practice for physiotherapists would significantly improve patient care, benefit the economy and healthcare system, while improve career pathways for our profession.”

In addition to enabling referrals, the APA is also advocating for autonomous prescribing rights for physiotherapists for certain medicines. Both these objectives form part of the APA’s goal to expand the scope of practice for physiotherapists.

“We’ve seen from our counterparts in the UK that prescribing rights and referral rights can work and have improved patient outcomes and enabled better use of existing resources. To ensure we have the same standard of care in Australia, it’s important we expand the scope of practice for physios.”

The APA is currently preparing a submission for the Physiotherapy Board of Australia to seek endorsement for autonomous prescribing. The submission will then be taken to the Australia Health Workforce Ministerial Council to consider the legislation.

Queensland is leading the way already in this space with developing research on the effects of using physiotherapists with prescribing rights in a variety of clinical settings in the public health system.

The Australian Health Review article: ‘Medicare rebate for specialist medical practitioners from physiotherapy referrals: analysis of the potential impact on the Australian healthcare system’ was published by Dr Tracy Comans, Senior Research Fellow, School of Medicine, Griffith University and Dr Josh Byrnes, Research Fellow Health Economics, Centre for Applied Health Economics (CAHE), School of Medicine, Griffith University.

To find out more about the APA’s actions on referral rights, visit the APA’s website on the report and view the pre-budget submission.

Media enquiries

Katie Croft - Australian Physiotherapy Association
P: (+61) 3 9092 0829 M (+61) 0413 780 545