Trust key as coronavirus curbs eased for physiotherapists, other allied health practitioners

Physiotherapists take steps to keep all safe as business hours and patient numbers rise

Heartland director Balaji Prem Chand said there has been a 20 to 30 per cent increase in bookings.
Heartland director Balaji Prem Chand said there has been a 20 to 30 per cent increase in bookings.PHOTO: COURTESY OF BALAJI PREM CHAND

While practitioners of allied health services welcomed the relaxation of social distancing guidelines last Friday, it has not quite been business as usual as they still have to work within certain limitations and safety measures.

From last week, centres and clinics that provide private outpatient services, which include physiotherapy, podiatry and speech therapy, are allowed to conduct more physical consultations. They can operate three days a week, up from the earlier guideline of one day a week. The daily cap of a maximum of six clients has also been removed.

But practitioners have to be based at one location, can meet only one client at a time and each session cannot go beyond an hour.

When the circuit breaker was first implemented on April 7 to curb the spread of the coronavirus, allied health services fell under non-essential services. Centres and clinics had to shut and they were able to conduct only teleconsultation.

They were reclassified as essential services on April 27 and allowed to resume reduced operations from April 29 to May 17, before the measures were adjusted again last week.

Sharon Lim, a sports physiotherapist at Moving Space, said she was glad to be able to do physical consultations with her clients.

"Some are at a critical timing because in the third to fourth week period after surgery, they will start to stiffen up and have mobility issues, especially for those who just had elbow and knee surgery," she added.

While some patients may still be concerned about virus transmission from one-on-one consultations, the centres and clinics have stepped up measures to ensure a safe environment.

HelloPhysio practises temperature screening and triaging of each client, and uses the SafeEntry digital check-in system for contact tracing purposes. Masks for physios and patients are a must.

Its founder Jenny Huang said: "I think trust is a huge factor in reducing my worries. Clients are certain they are in good health and have not been close to anyone with Covid-19.

"However, even with all these in place, there will be concerns of asymptomatic individuals and hence, it is our professional duty to make sure we keep ourselves safe to keep our clients safe by frequent hand washing and sanitising of surfaces like door handles and treatment table."

Despite the concerns, some have seen a rise in client bookings.


Balaji Prem Chand, director and principal sports physiotherapist at Heartland Physio, said: "There has been a 20 to 30 per cent increase in bookings... (but) when we weren't allowed to open, business dropped by 80 to 85 per cent."

Like other facilities, teleconsultation is an option, with 50 per cent of his current clientele opting for it.

Lim added: "If we can resolve it through the teleconsult, we will do that first. Through screening over the phone, if we understand teleconsultation cannot be used, we will bring them to the clinic."

Tanjong Pagar United winger Nashrul Amin is one of those who has had to make do with video calls with his club trainer Muklis Sawit, as his rehabilitation does not fall under the revised guidelines.

The 22-year-old, who tore the medial and posterior collateral ligaments in his knee during the 1-1 Singapore Premier League draw with Lion City Sailors in March, hopes the rules can be further relaxed.

Nashrul, who had one session with Muklis at the Jurong East Stadium gym before the circuit breaker began, said: "It is better doing rehab with a physio there as there are equipment which I don't have at home but are important for strengthening.

"For now, I make do with what I have like resistance bands, but my knee feels stiff."

Muklis, who conducts one-to two-hour video sessions with Nashrul four to five times a week, said: "We try our best, but it is better if we can help players in person with health measures in place because we can help look at things such as body posture and safety when it comes to loading for strengthening purposes."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 12, 2020, with the headline 'Trust key in easing curbs'. Subscribe