Developing minimum clinical standards for physiotherapy in South African ICUs: A qualitative study.

Physiotherapists are integral members of the intensive care unit (ICU) team. Clinicians working in ICU are dependent on their own experience when making decisions regarding individual patient management thus resulting in variation in clinical practice. No formalized clinical practice guidelines or standards exist for the educational profile or scope of practice requirements for ICU physiotherapy. This study explored perceptions of physiotherapists on minimum clinical standards that ICU physiotherapists should adhere to for delivering safe, effective physiotherapy services to critically ill patients.

Experienced physiotherapists offering a service to South African ICUs were purposively sampled. Three focus group sessions were held in different parts of the country to ensure national participation. Each was audio recorded. The stimulus question posed was “What is the minimum standard of clinical practice needed by physiotherapists to ensure safe and independent practice in South African ICUs?” Three categories were explored, namely, knowledge, skill, and attributes. Themes and subthemes were developed using the codes identified. An inductive approach to data analysis was used to perform conventional content analysis.

Twenty-five physiotherapists participated in 1 of 3 focus group sessions. Mean years of ICU experience was 10.8 years (±7.0; range, 3-33). Three themes emerged from the data namely, integrated medical knowledge, multidisciplinary teamwork, and physiotherapy practice. Integrated medical knowledge related to anatomy and physiology, conditions that patients present with in ICU, the ICU environment, pathology and pathophysiology, and pharmacology. Multidisciplinary teamwork encompassed elements related to communication, continuous professional development, cultural sensitivity, documentation, ethics, professionalism, safety in ICU, and technology. Components related to physiotherapy practice included clinical reasoning, handling skills, interventions, and patient care.

The information obtained will be used to inform the development of a list of standards to be presented to the wider national physiotherapy and ICU communities for further consensus-building activities.