Homeless people’s access to primary care physiotherapy services: an exploratory, mixed-method investigation

The purpose of this study was to appraise referrals of homeless patients to physiotherapy services and explore perceptions of barriers to access. This exploratory mixed-method study used a follow-up qualitative extension to core quantitative research design. Over 9 months, quantitative data were gathered from the healthcare records of homeless patients referred to physiotherapy by a general practitioner (GP) practice, including the number of referrals and demographic data of all homeless patients referred. Corresponding physiotherapy records of those people referred to physiotherapy were searched for the outcome of their care. Qualitative semi-structured telephone interviews, based on the quantitative findings, were carried out with staff involved with patient care from the referring GP practice and were used to expand insight into the quantitative findings.

Two primary care sites provided data for this study: a GP practice dedicated exclusively to homeless people and the physiotherapy department receiving their referrals. Quantitative data from the healthcare records of 34 homeless patient referrals to physiotherapy were collected and analysed. In addition, five staff involved in patient care were interviewed.

34 referrals of homeless people were made to physiotherapy in a 9-month period. It was possible to match 25 of these to records from the physiotherapy department. Nine (36%) patients did not attend their first appointment; seven (28%) attended an initial appointment, but did not attend a subsequent appointment and were discharged from the service; five (20%) completed treatment and four patients (16%) had ongoing treatment. Semi-structured interviews revealed potential barriers preventing homeless people from accessing physiotherapy services, the complex factors being faced by those making referrals and possible ways to improve physiotherapy access. Homeless people with musculoskeletal problems may fail to access physiotherapy treatment, but opportunities exist to make access to physiotherapy easier.

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