The type and scope of physiotherapy is under-utilised in Australian residential aged care facilities: a national, cross-sectional survey of physiotherapists

Lindsey Brett*, Emre Ilhan

*Corresponding author for this work

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Background: With an increasingly ageing population in Australia, more older adults who are frail are living in residential aged care facilities (RACFs). The aim of this study was to detail the type, scope, and funding of physiotherapy utilised in Australian RACFs.

Methods: Registered physiotherapists (n = 219, 72% female, mean age (SD) = 38.6 (12.9) years) working in Australian RACFs participated in a nationwide, cross-sectional online survey. The survey was developed iteratively through a review of the literature and clinical guidelines, consensus of final survey items by an expert panel of five senior physiotherapists and aged care managers. Survey questions related to the characteristics of the physiotherapists (e.g., age, gender, employment status), characteristics of the RACFs (e.g., state, remoteness, sector), the type and scope of physiotherapy provided by respondents, and the availability of equipment and certain spaces (e.g., gyms) in the RACFs that respondents worked in. Survey responses were analysed and presented descriptively. Correlation using Spearman’s rho (ρ) and the associated 95% confidence intervals (CI) were used to determine whether the availability of equipment or space at the RACF was associated with the time dedicated to performing non-Aged Care Funding Instrument (ACFI) tasks.

Results: Common reasons for physiotherapy referral were chronic pain management as per the ACFI framework (89.7%), falls (69.2%), and reduced mobility (35.9%). Rehabilitation or short-term restorative care was provided in only 22.2% of the facilities. The ACFI funded 91.4% of all participants, which limited physiotherapists to low-value chronic pain management including massage and electrical stimulation. Respondents spent 64.5% of their time on ACFI tasks, which equated to 19 h per week. More time was spent on non-ACFI tasks particularly when resistance bands (ρ = 0.28, 95%CI 0.14–0.41) and a dedicated therapy space or gym (ρ = 0.19, 95%CI 0.04–0.33) were available.

Conclusions: The expertise of physiotherapists is currently being under-utilised in Australian RACFs, which may be related to the availability of public funding, equipment, and space for therapy. Therefore, public health policy should address the urgent need for high-value, evidence-based physiotherapy that supports the reablement and independence of older adults living in RACFs.
Original languageEnglish
Article number625
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Geriatrics
Publication statusPublished - 28 Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2022. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • Aged care
  • Nursing home
  • Physiotherapy
  • Physical therapy
  • Older adults


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