M. Merolli1,2, L. Remedios3, O. Ahmed4, K. McCreesh5
1The University of Melbourne, Centre for Health, Exercise and Sports Medicine, Department of Physiotherapy, Melbourne, Australia, 2The University of Melbourne, Centre for Digital Transformation of Health, Melbourne, Australia, 3The University of Melbourne, Department of Physiotherapy, Melbourne, Australia, 4Bournemouth University, Department of Rehabilitation and Sports Sciences, Bournemouth, United Kingdom, 5University of Limerick, School of Allied Health, Ageing Research Centre, Limerick, Ireland

Background: Our profession is undergoing major transformations through digital technology (e.g telehealth, mobile devices, wearables, big data). However, digital maturity across the global physiotherapy community varies considerably. This study examines current  digital physical therapy practice guidance in the context of international practice competencies.

Purpose: Before the profession can confidently embrace and effectively leverage technologies to support patient outcomes, and health system performance we must examine where digital knowledge and skills sit within existing practice competency guidance. Doing so is an important workforce agenda; paralleling the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) strategic directive for digital healthcare, and WCPT’s education and digital practice taskforces.

Methods: A five stage, sequential meta-synthesis of publicly available international practice competence standards has been undertaken. We first sourced six practice competence standards in the English language from the regions listed by the International Network of Physiotherapy Regulatory Authorities (INPTRA). Leveraging the authorship team’s networks and our respective member organisations, we sourced an additional four for analysis, ten total. The next stage involved identification of digital practice keywords using the WCPT/INTPRA digital physical therapy practice report, and MeSH headings for digital health, eHealth, and health informatics. Next, we standardised competency levels across the nine documents for greater homogeneity to aid data extraction. We then extracted competency statements according to keywords identified. Statements were cleaned to remove duplicates. We finally coded competency statements into three groups:
1) Related to digital physical therapy practice,
2) Relevant to health information management but not digital,
3) Irrelevant.

Results: N=256 competency statements were extracted. Standards covered European (UK, Ireland), Asia-Pacific (Australia, New Zealand), North American (USA, Canada), and African (South Africa) regions. We also analysed ER-WCPT and WCPT practice standards for representation where individual country competency standards weren’t readily identifiable. n=30 statements were duplicates (containing two or more keywords), leaving n=226 statements to analyse; n=2 statements were deemed irrelevant and omitted. In total, we coded n=43 (19.0%) statements related to digital practice, and n=183 (81.0%) related to data or information management, but not digital practice. Competency standards containing the greatest proportion of digital practice competency statements were the Australian Careers Competency Framework (32.4%), Australian and New Zealand Practice Thresholds (23.5%), and Canadian Competency Profile for Physiotherapists (22.7%).

Conclusion(s): There is currently no international consensus about digital physical therapy practice and consequently, a large gap for competency expectations and guidance for physical therapists in this space. This not only signals the need for greater attention to digital practice competence, but for a more coordinated international effort to develop standardised competencies to support university curricula design, and the current workforce to practice confidently and competently in a more digitally enabled world.

Implications: Digital physical therapy practice:
  • Should be viewed within a practice competency framework;
  • Offers potential to supporting models of care and health system performance;
  • Needs global consensus around materials to support education and career professional development.
  • As outlined, links to the activities of the WCPT and hence, may act as a leadership and engagement signal for the global physiotherapy community.

Funding, acknowledgements: Nil

Keywords: Digital Physical Therapy Practice, Practice Competency, Standards

Topic: Education

Did this work require ethics approval? No
Institution: N/A
Committee: N/A
Reason: N/A - Project purely exploratory of freely available global practice thresholds to inform education and policy. Further approval was not required.

All authors, affiliations and abstracts have been published as submitted.

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