Recently, more than ever, the importance of establishing a clinical network has become apparent to me. By clinical network I mean a group of health professionals with which you have established relationships and maintain regular professional contact with. Whilst many sports physiotherapists would be acutely aware of the benefits of such a network, some may not realise the effect that it can have.
THE CLINICAL NETWORK
This clinical network would consist of the health professionals that would be of assistance in providing an optimal level of care and satisfaction to your athletes. I would suggest the most important, but not the only, would be:
- Orthopaedic Specialists
- Sports Physicians
- Exercise Physiologists
- Massage Therapists
- Sports Psychologists
- Radiologists – particularly musculoskeletal radiologists
A clinical network of these professionals, with which you have close working relationships will undoubtedly lead to improved athlete outcomes. The numerous benefits, discussed below, are clearly displayed by the number of physiotherapy or sports medicine practices which house such a ‘multidisciplinary team’.
BENEFITS TO THE ATHLETE
The benefit to the athlete is quite simple. It comes down to systems of increased efficiency and effectiveness through open lines of communication between health professionals. The ability of the sports physiotherapist to walk down the corridor to ask an orthopaedic specialists opinion on a case and concurrently schedule a specialist review leads to improved time efficiency. This ultimately equates quicker return to play timeframes, and that is what we are all about!
As stated above, I have recently been made frustratingly aware of the benefits of these lines of communication. I recently assessed a dancer with midfoot pain that I felt was related to a Lisfranc joint injury. Subsequently, I had referred for appropriate imaging through the avenue of the athlete’s GP (her request). On the referral letter I had specifically stated the imaging types, appropriate and comparative views etc – only for her to return to the clinic with a unilateral non-WB X-Ray. Frustrating to say the least. However, had I utilised the sports physician in my established clinical network this would not have been the case.
Additionally, the athlete also has the potential to benefit from other performance enhancing therapies, other than direct injury management and prevention. This can be through the input of sports psychologists or dietitians, who would make beneficial changes to the athletes behaviours.
BENEFITS TO THE SPORTS PHYSIOTHERAPIST
The benefits to the physiotherapist are also quite clear. Firstly, improving the outcome of the athlete reflects favourably upon the physiotherapist. This would improve your rapport with the athlete, and generally improve your reputation. This is fantastic for word of mouth, and fantastic for business.
Speaking of business, if you decide to have this clinical network housed internally i.e. in your own practice, it has the potential to significantly expand your business. Each professional is a profit centre, which means they generate profit for your business. Increased revenue and improved health outcomes – now that is a win win.
Most importantly, I believe, having an established clinical network will make you a better sports physiotherapist. You have the potential to draw on the experience and clinical expertise of the health professionals in your clinical network to learn and grow. This is absolutely invaluable.
Just today I had the pleasure of performing a ‘combined’ assessment with a sports podiatrist in my clinical network. Whilst he gave me significant insights into the finer points of the biomechanical assessment, I also discussed with him the appropriate interventions for certain soft-tissue pathologies. We were both better for the experience, and better yet, the athlete had the development of an improved rehabilitation program.
WHY WAIT – PICK UP THE PHONE!
Whilst it may seem bothersome, or time-consuming, to contact these professionals in the name of networking (long-term readers would know I don’t like the cheesiness of this term) this relatively small investment of time will deliver large results. Developing the network is not as challenging as you may think, and has major rewards. Just pick up the phone and discuss a mutual patient, just make sure you have something intelligent to say to them. Once you have this established your own clinical network you will wonder how you did without it.