BACKGROUND: In response to long waiting lists and problems with access to primary care physiotherapy, several Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) (now Clinical Commissioning Groups CCGs) developed physiotherapy-led telephone assessment and treatment services. The Medical Research Council (MRC) funded PhysioDirect trial was a randomised control trial (RCT) in four PCTs, with a total of 2252 patients that compared this approach with usual physiotherapy care. This nested qualitative study aimed to explore the acceptability of the PhysioDirect telephone assessment and advice service to patients with musculoskeletal conditions.
METHODS: We conducted 57 semi-structured interviews with adults from 4 PCTs who were referred from general practice to physiotherapy with musculoskeletal conditions and were participating in the PhysioDirect trial. The Framework method was used to analyse the qualitative data.
RESULTS: The PhysioDirect service was largely viewed as acceptable although some saw it as a first step to subsequent face-to-face physiotherapy. Most participants found accessing the PhysioDirect service straightforward and smooth, and they valued the faster access to physiotherapy advice offered by the telephone service. Participants generally viewed both the PhysioDirect service and the physiotherapists providing the service as helpful. Participants' preferences and priorities for treatment defined the acceptable features of PhysioDirect but the acceptable features were traded off against less acceptable features. Some participants felt that the PhysioDirect service was impersonal and impaired the development of a good relationship with their physiotherapist, which made the service feel remote and less valuable.
CONCLUSION: The PhysioDirect service was broadly acceptable to participants since it provided faster access to physiotherapy advice for their musculoskeletal conditions. Participants felt that it is best placed as one method of accessing physiotherapy services, in addition to, rather than as a replacement for, more traditional face-to-face physiotherapy assessment and treatment.
- Service delivery
- Patient experience
- Qualitative study