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5 Important Safety Precautions for Physical Therapists in Light of COVID-19

As the world begins to adjust to a new normal in the wake of COVID-19, physical therapy practice owners are starting to look to the future and put measures in place to ensure that the risks to themselves, their staff, their clients and their practice are minimised.

The advances in Telehealth for physical therapists has been an exciting change and one that looks to become an integral part of many practices, but it’s not an ideal solution for all clients.

So, with that in mind, we’ve put together a list of the top 5 safety protocols that you can put in place in your practice:

1. Set Up Pre-Appointment Screening

To keep your clients and your staff safe and Corona-free, you want to make sure that nobody carrying the virus enters the premises.

There are a few ways you can screen your patients before they even step in the door, such as:

A quick screening call

On the morning of the appointment or the day before, give the client a call or send them a text message to ask a few questions, such as:

  • “Have you been ill in the last 14 days?”
  • “Have you been in contact with someone who has been sick?”
  • “Do you have any flu-like symptoms?”

If the client is a potential point of infection, the staff member must have a clear idea of how to act. This may be as simple as requiring that the client reschedule their appointment once they have been symptom-free for two weeks.

Mandatory temperature checks at the door

This goes for staff and clients. Before they walk through the door, everyone entering the practice is required to take and record their temperature. This may be done by a staff member, or you can ask clients to self-report. Anyone with a temperature above 38°C should be sent home.

If it is a staff member, they can return to work when they have been fever-free for at least three days, their symptoms have improved, and at least ten days have passed since they first experienced symptoms.

2. Use PPE and Provide Training

Make sure that you have the safety equipment you need and that your staff know how to use it. Masks are the minimum requirements for interacting with your clients. Everyone, from receptionists and cleaning staff to clients and therapists should wear a mask at all times in the practice. The masks can either be cloth or disposable surgical masks. If you are over 65, immunocompromised, or have an underlying condition that puts you at higher risk, an N95 mask is ideal.

Unfortunately, masks are only effective if they are used properly. This makes training yourself and your staff essential, and you should feel comfortable asking your clients to follow the guidelines too. The masks should cover your mouth and nose at all times.

3. Prioritise Hand Sanitisation

There has been a lot of emphasis on the importance of regular hand washing to slow the spread of infection. But, while you may be following a strict hand sanitisation routine, others may not. This leaves you open to becoming infected and, unknowingly, spreading the infection simply by opening a door that a COVID-positive person has opened before you.

Define a handwashing policy

At a minimum, staff should wash their hands before and after seeing a client. If they sneeze or cough, they should also immediately wash their hands. In addition, anyone entering the practice, whether a client, staff member or visitor, should be required to sanitise their hands upon entry.

Remind staff and clients about the policy

It’s easy to get swept up in the busyness of the day, seeing clients, checking referrals, and all the admin that comes with a busy practice. And, with everything that’s going, hand washing may not be top-of-mind for everyone. One way to keep everyone mindful of the need to wash their hands is to distribute posters and notes throughout the practice so that both staff and clients receive regular reminders to keep washing their hands.

Make it easy to follow the handwashing protocols

Distribute hand sanitiser throughout the practice. There should be a station at the door for clients as they enter, as well as dispensers in the waiting room, at the reception desk, in the bathrooms and the treatment rooms.

4. Maintain Social Distancing

Social distancing has been a top priority through the pandemic as close proximity (defined as 2 metres or less) is strongly linked to the transmission. This is a difficult one for physios as the nature of the work demands close contact with clients. Some helpful approaches include:

  • Limiting the number of people in the practice – clients should attend appointments alone if possible unless they require assistance.
  • The use of individual rooms – clients should be seen in separate rooms that are easy to sanitise. Consider asking clients to bring in their own towels for the appointment.
  • Reducing your client load – this will mean that you may be working longer hours or seeing fewer clients, but it will ensure that you have sufficient time to sanitise the treatment room, whilst also reducing the number of people in the practice at any given time.
  • Keeping the number of people in the waiting room to a minimum – consider asking clients to wait in their cars until the time of their appointment. You could then send them a text message to let them know when they can enter.
  • Reducing client contact – where possible use education and exercises to help your clients instead of interventions that require physical touch.

5. Keep the Practice Sanitised

The main reason that COVID has been so devastating is that it is extremely contagious. With this understanding, it’s easy to see why all touchpoints in the practice need to be wiped down regularly. This includes all countertops, door handles, therapy equipment, tables, and even pens.

You may also consider putting up shields at the front desk and seek to minimise all unnecessary staff-client touchpoints. This could mean implementing practice management software that allows for online billing and payment.

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We’ve covered what you can do in your private practice to prevent the spread of COVID and keep your staff and clients safe. From client screening before the appointment to strict sanitisation policies, taking the right precautions will give you and your clients complete peace of mind.

If you work in an acute hospital setting, the requirements for physiotherapists are a lot more intensive. The Australian-based recommendations are covered here, outlining proper PT training, careful patient screening, and the use of PPE.


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