Since the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 pandemic a year ago, daily life has changed in immeasurable ways. In response, Albertans have adopted public health measures to slow the spread of the virus, as shown by the recent decreases in active cases and hospitalizations. However, with the threat of new virus variants on the rise, we are not out of the woods and we must all continue to take action to protect ourselves, our families, and our community.
Physiotherapists are committed to providing safe and effective care to their clients. In response to the pandemic, physiotherapists have put increased infection control measures in place to protect everyone in the practice setting, especially for you, the patient. Most of these measures have been in place since the clinics first re-opened in May 2020 and since then, physiotherapists have been successfully able to protect the health of clients while continuing to meet their physiotherapy needs.
With these measures in place, you can continue to receive physiotherapy services in the community, in a range of settings, including physiotherapy clinics and through care provided in your own home.
Safety measures you can expect
Most of these measures have been in place since physiotherapy services resumed in May 2020. So far, the Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Hinshaw has stated that the public health measures in use to combat the spread of COVID-19 are the same as those required to combat the virus variants. As such, physiotherapists and their clients need to redouble their efforts, even as case numbers are currently steady across much of the province.
These safety measures include:
You will be asked a series of questions when you make your appointment, and immediately prior to receiving physiotherapy. Your answers will help the physiotherapist to assess the risk of spreading or catching the virus during your visit.
You may see plexiglass panels between you and front desk staff when you arrive.
A different clinic layout.
The clinic may look less crowded as there should be fewer individual treatment areas, spaced at least two meters apart.
There should be hand sanitizer available and signage reminding you to use it regularly.
You should see staff using hand hygiene products frequently.
Decreased numbers of people in waiting areas.
You may be asked to wait outside of the clinic if you arrive ahead of your scheduled appointment time or the physiotherapist is not quite ready to see you.
Enhanced cleaning and disinfecting processes.
All surfaces/equipment should be cleaned and disinfected before and after use.
One on one contact with a health-care provider and no group classes.
Physiotherapists may currently only provide treatment to one person at a time and may not be going back and forth between clients during treatment sessions.
If the physiotherapist employs a physiotherapist assistant to provide physiotherapy services, you should expect to see your physiotherapist for the treatments they must provide before being transferred to the physiotherapist assistant for the care they are responsible for. In this scenario there may be more clients in the clinic space at one time, but there should not be more clients than clinicians.
Consistent use of personal protection equipment (PPE) including:
Staff must wear medical grade surgical masks.
Clients are required to follow provincial mask orders and local mask bylaws when they are in effect.
Gloves, gowns and face shields or goggles are not required when treating asymptomatic clients, but physiotherapists may add these items to protect themselves.
We have learned a great deal this past year. Some of these practices may even continue beyond the current pandemic.
Steps you can take to protect yourself
In addition to physical distancing, wearing a mask, covering coughs and sneezes, avoiding touching your face and performing frequent hand hygiene, patients are asked to do the following to help physiotherapists keep COVID-19 out of the clinic:
Stay home if you are feeling ill. This is one of the most important actions you can take, even if your symptoms are not related to COVID-19. Many viruses are easily transmitted to others. If your physiotherapist were to catch a respiratory virus from you, they would be required to stay home and be tested and are not allowed back to work until their symptoms are gone. This in turn, impacts your ability to see your physiotherapist for treatment.
Comply with isolation and quarantine requirements. If you are told you need to self-isolate or quarantine due to illness or close contact with someone with COVID-19, please do not attend an in-person physiotherapy appointment.
Provide accurate and complete information when answering screening questions. Providing false or misleading information prevents your physiotherapist from accurately assessing risks, potentially puts others at risk, and could ultimately lead to a physiotherapist being required to isolate or quarantine, ceasing in-person services for a period of time.
Consider incorporating telerehabilitation for some or all your treatment sessions. Treatments provided through telerehabilitation or a combination of in-person and virtual visits can be effective for a variety of conditions, injuries, or illnesses and can decrease many of the risks associated with in-person appointments.
What could result from not following these steps?
The ultimate purpose for putting these measures in place is to prevent or minimize the transmission of COVID-19 within the community. Not following public health measures:
Puts yourself and your family at risk of illness.
Puts physiotherapy staff at risk of illness.
Puts physiotherapy staff in a position of having to quarantine if you attend while ill or under quarantine and subsequently test positive for COVID-19.
Has the potential to causing a clinic to close due to close contact quarantine requirements.
Taking steps to protect yourself and others is vital to ensuring we can continue to live, work, and play safely. Physiotherapists are as concerned about COVID-19 as you are. Over the past year, physiotherapists have been able to successfully protect the health of clients while continuing to meet their physiotherapy needs. With your help, they will continue to do so as the pandemic continues to unfold.