Author: Matthew Low

Putting the spotlight on ourselves: Governance to improve practice.

Another timely blog by Neil Langridge, Consultant Physiotherapist, discussing the recent Social Media discourse surrounding governance and professionalism.

For clarity, the purpose of this blogpost is threefold:

  1. To assure and reassure patients that there are current governance processes in place.
  2. Add a viewpoint on the context of governance and professionalism
  3. To clarify a position in response to proposed models of reform that should be rejected within the context of unethical behavior without due process.

Over the last 24 hours I have read and watched some interesting opinions on how as a profession we should internally govern practice. As a clinician who has been involved and led investigations where serious incidents have happened, such as operations that should not have occurred, missed cancer diagnoses, HCPC referrals, and inappropriate/unprofessional behaviour etc I have wanted to engage with the discussion with a little more depth.

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There is no doubt that certainly across numerous health sectors certain disasters, injustices, unsafe practices have led to changes in policy, process, safety measures and ultimately improvements in care. The Francis Report is a great example of significant developments in which learning from terrible circumstances have seen changes in policy and practice, the Shipman enquiry also, was a clear example of learning from tragedy, unsafe, and unethical practice.

As a profession I am not suggesting that the recent discussions are in line with this level of circumstance, however what can we learn from these processes to ensure the profession remains able to assure the public is that we remain as vigilant as we can about improvements to care, and/or dealing with unsafe or unethical practice.

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I have experienced serious incidents and learning (as I am sure many readers will have too) for example, having to apologise directly to a patient that we missed an opportunity to diagnose the cancer they had earlier, working with a colleague who through investigation identified further deeper issues in the working environment, making HCPC referrals which I knew could be devastating (but I knew it was the right thing to do). What I had to do in every case was to be sure of the evidence I had to support my reports, if not then my conduct would come into question, I would not being fulfilling my role, and patients and staff would be no safer if I was not vigilant in my assessment of the evidence in front of me.

I made sure I worked with partners such as the Freedom to Speak Up Guardians, engaged in open discussions with staff, but most importantly patients and through these relationships, what I was looking for, was to ensure the patient was listened to, treated fairly, given the information they needed, and offered every opportunity to engage through the process. I also had to also always consider the clinicians’ well-being as these can be incredibly stressful times, and they needed support as well.

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Vital to this is that we always want and must learn from these processes, patients generally say through complaints about services that they don’t want what happened to them to happen to others, and they are 100% correct. It is our ethical duty to learn from incidents and to audit those improvements and therefore the CQC, HCPC, patient advocacy groups, professional bodies etc can quite rightly be assured on behalf of the patient/public that learning, change and progress has been made.

The reason I wanted to write on the back of the SoMe discussions was that if, as a profession, we do not follow these principles and processes, then we ourselves under the pretense of righteous behaviour, will ultimately undermine how clinical governance works, and in doing so, we ourselves will be the unethical clinicians in our approach to improving practice.

Patients want to know we ask the questions, they want to know we apply the principles of due diligence, and they want to know we have the credible processes to provide safe practice, hence the need to work with the processes and governing bodies, not independently of them, to continue to provide improvements in care.

In the private sector if clinicians are ultimately falsely advertising or treating unethically, then we should make the right referral inclusive of trading standards and advertising watchdogs, let them build the case from evidence, and we should still make the appropriate clinical referrals to ensure we have done what we should from an ethical perspective.

My main point being, is that we should be challenging unethical practice but if carried out in a “Name and Shame” model, then the transparency, learning, and safety gets lost under a blanket of personal opinion and bias; and it’s clear from previous changes in clinical culture that working in partnerships, working in evidence, and working within governance models, is how we can remain a trusted clinical profession.

Neil Langridge @neiljlangridge

Consultant NHS Physiotherapist

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A Disconnect with Connect Health: A Reasoned View of Bilateral Leg Pain and Cauda Equina Syndrome

This is a timely guest blog post by Consultant Physiotherapists Chris Mercer, Laura Finucane and Sue Greenhalgh.

Last  week, Graeme Wilkes, MD at Connect Health released a “white paper” blog relating to bilateral sciatica and Cauda Equina syndrome (CES). The blog has generated significant discussion and clearly this debate and discussion is to be welcomed if we are to improve the management of this patient group. In the last week, we have all had several contacts from physiotherapists and service leads seeking guidance on how to manage patients with bilateral leg symptoms, but no other manifestations of CES.

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The Cauda Equina – published with permission by Ruth Eaves

This is our response to the paper by Graeme Wilkes which we would consider   a “green paper”- an item to promote further discussion on the topic, which we feel warrants a broader, more nuanced approach to managing these patients. The overriding message of his paper is that patients presenting with bilateral sciatica should be sent for an emergency MRI to rule out CES. We do not advocate that patients with bilateral leg pain with an absence of CES symptoms should be scanned as an emergency. Our reasons for this are outlined below.

Bilateral sciatica has been added to the list of possible symptoms of CES, though the message is not universal or clear, as Graeme points out. There is a lack of clarity from NICE, with the Clinical Knowledge Summary adding it to the list of CES symptoms but no mention of it in the NICE guidance for LBP and sciatica. Graeme’s own mini Twitter survey showed that there is a lack of consistency in approach to managing this patient group, and the GIRFT review did not offer clear guidance.

So what are front line clinicians supposed to think of all this, and how can we move forward in a way that will not overload the system and cause unnecessary anxiety for the patients and staff involved?

We think it might be helpful to look at the terminology and definitions involved, and then discuss the management pathway for these patients.

 

Terminology

The term bilateral sciatica is not a helpful term and perhaps we could refine it more accurately to  “radicular pain” or “radiculopathy”, where we can attach not only pain distribution, but also physical testing to the diagnosis. This would at least help to remove those patients with spinally referred leg pain where there is no neurogenic origin. Whilst the definitions of radicular pain, radiculopathy and spinally referred leg pain are also not entirely consistent, they may help to refine the patient group we should be concerned about.

Once the diagnosis of bilateral neurogenic leg pain is established, we would support a reasoned approach to onward management. Referring all of these patients to ED for same day MRI is likely to have several consequences;

  • There will be an inevitable burden placed on ED and MRI resources, and we would argue that this would be disproportionate and would risk overloading an already overburdened system unnecessarily.
  • Both the patient and the clinician involved will potentially be more anxious about the condition.
  • The rate of negative imaging for “suspected CES” will increase further. We know already that around 90% of people referred for imaging for possible CES have negative scans, and adding bilateral leg pain to the list of indications for emergency scan would further increase this percentage.
  • The effect of this may be to then dilute trust in the referring clinicians, which may have the knock-on effect of decreasing acceptance of future requests for imaging/referrals.

 

Management

Graeme Wilkes rightly acknowledges the excellent work of Nick Todd in the management of CES over many years, and he clearly has been very influential in helping to manage this patient group. His perspective is very much that of a secondary care spinal surgeon as you would expect. The burden and challenge of early identification of patients with CES is predominantly in primary care, and often with the first contact clinician. Given that the patient may present with much more subtle signs and symptoms in the early stages, it is clearly important to be able to explore symptoms in detail in order to identify those patients at risk. We need to identify patients who are in the classification of “suspected” or “incomplete” CES, not those “white flag” patients that Todd talks about who have Complete CES and likely very poor outcomes from surgery.

In order to identify these patients early, we already delve deeper into questions about bladder, bowel, sexual function and saddle sensation changes, as we know there are myriad of reasons for these functions to be disrupted, most of which are not CES. We would suggest a similar approach to bilateral leg symptoms. Rather than a blanket approach of onward referral, we think that careful questioning, examination and safety netting of these patients would be a prudent way forward. The majority of patients with bilateral leg symptoms will not need emergency scanning. Below are categories of patients with bilateral leg symptoms and suggested pathways  which we feel reflect the more nuanced presentation of patients and may offer a reasoned way  forward to managing this group of patients.

 

  • Bilateral leg pain with normal neurology, normal neurodynamic tests and no other CES symptoms- treat as per symptoms and monitor progress. Safety net with CES card or similar.
  • Bilateral leg pain with normal neurology, positive neurodynamic tests and no other CES symptoms- treat as per symptoms. Safety net with CES card or similar- if already had conservative treatment then may refer for scan on a routine basis (but not looking for CES)
  • Bilateral leg pain with abnormal neurology and normal/positive neurodynamic tests and no CES symptoms. Management depends on the degree of neurological deficit- if gross motor weakness or deteriorating neurology, then refer for an urgent scan ( but not same day) and safety net patient re CES.
  • Bilateral leg pain with any other CES symptoms- refer on for emergency scan

 

This suggested subgrouping of bilateral leg pain patients may reflect more truly the range of people seen, and may help clinicians to make an informed and balanced decision on how to manage them. Unfortunately there is very little black and white in the management of CES patients in the early stages- we know that these are a complex group of patients who do need our urgent care when appropriate. We are all committed to that and support any moves to improve the outcomes for the small number of people whose lives are so dramatically affected by CES. We also acknowledge that as first contact clinicians we have a responsibility to manage the potential risks in a balanced and reasoned way, and we feel that the approach outlined above may help to do just that.

Chris Mercer, Laura Finucane and Sue Greenhalgh

 

“Tis the season to be jolly”

A couple of thoughts about this year and the year ahead for MSK Physiotherapists

by Neil Langridge, NHS Consultant Physiotherapist

At this time of year it’s a great time to look back as well as looking forward. To do this personally and professionally I think is a great way to re-set the scene for oneself, and it also to develop goals and aims for the coming year. I like to look back at the previous year, and this year in particular I think has been a shift in the MSK world that really we should be “jolly” about as well as mindful that there is so much work ahead for the profession.

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There have been some real advances in what might be available for the physiotherapists of the future. Advanced practice has really taken off, it’s just the start but there have been some enormous leaps forward. Work developing the “Multi-professional  framework for advanced clinical practice” although published 14 months ago, will certainly begin to influence many opportunities for physiotherapists and AHPs. This is now driving advanced practice models such as the apprenticeship model which was approved in 2018 which will see employers, Universities, and clinicians working together to gain improved care, careers, and clinical practice.

Education

First contact work has gained further credibility with more data, more service transformation and courses being developed in Universities to support this work. It has seen its own framework underpinning it, data tools to help monitor it, cost calculators to help plan for it as well as clinicians coming together to help drive it. Health Education England working with partners in NHS England and the CSP have driven this to the table where STPs (Sustainability and Transformation Partnerships) are discussing it as part of remodelling and CCGs were mandated to provide pilots across England.

These pieces of work were well presented in the fantastic piece of work “AHPs into Actionand this document will help continue to inform how AHPs can continue to re-design and transform. Physiotherapists within the MSK field were used as examples in this document and once again highlights the national profile of what we do and can do.

The NIHR document “Moving forward – physiotherapy for musculoskeletal health and well-being” highlights some of the wonderful research that has led our practice and continues to inform the future.

Whether you agree or disagree with the messages the CSP have been driving many new initiatives in the promotion of the profession and activity. The wonderful campaign video that supported “Rehab matters” was very well put together, and really emphasised the need for rehab to be at the heart of our medical futures and values. The “Love activity, hate exercisecampaign had some controversy but it certainly once again brought home the importance of activity within our communities. PhysioUK 18, was in my opinion, a great success and was sensibly priced to encourage those who had not networked and gained CPD at this event in the past, the opportunity to experience a varied and interesting programme.

At a more local level, the” BigRs” movement continues to create conversation and developments. I have been fortunate enough to attend these, speak at them and also be part of the ongoing strands of work around trying to help develop the profession. I really like this model of critical enquiry, development, and challenge, but it’s done in such a way it encourages those involved via the winning of hearts and minds, building a model around respectful dialogue and leaving emotion and personal conflicts at the door. The “Physio Matters” team and “Connect Health” should be congratulated on their work so far with this and I look forward to the future work from this group.

From a personal and professional point of view, I am aiming to try to see how our MSK team can start to impact on the health and well being of the population we serve. Our main challenges this year are to try to improve our public health outcomes, look to engage with schools, local community groups and just widen the impact of physical exercise and good health models for our communities. This is something I am particularly looking forward to. We also have the challenges of supporting staff in tough environments; we have therefore looked to support staff at MSc levels, build improved local educational opportunities, seeing staff progress into specialist roles.

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I am looking to drive a Band 8a clinical lead in physiotherapy only, not as an Orthopaedic triage specialist, but as someone totally focussed on rehabilitation. I have witnessed these discussions across SoMe and want to act on them within my service. We have a Band 4 sports rehab role near ready to be advertised, this is something I am really keen on, the old style remedial gymnast, leading some of our classes and using skills in class taking and rehabilitation to complement what we do across all the services to de-medicalise where appropriate and where we can. The changes in CCG directives in many surgical options means we as a profession are ideally placed to resolve these lines of practice, it will be a matter of getting houses in order to achieve this.

These initiatives have been massively helped by the information I have received on SoMe and the discussions have prompted my local conversation, driving plans for 2019, so thanks to those I have learnt from.

I am looking forward to seeing the HEE funded FCP e-Learning programme to be completed. This was initially started by just asking SoMe colleagues for help and the interest and comments were staggeringly helpful. I now have an amazing team of contributors and all of the modules have a person-centred approach underpinning them.  The modules will, I think, be a valuable free to access resource. SoMe will be the platform to support its launch.

As in any reflections, there are concerns and worries, as it can’t be all “jolly”, things we wish we had done better, I certainly spend time thinking on this. I know we must continue to move forward and not harp back to historical philosophies.  We cannot ever really rest in developing an evidence-base that makes sense and change practice for the physiotherapists of tomorrow, in so doing, challenging the out-dated practice of today and consequently place our profession in the most professional light possible. I always look back in how I could have managed situations, people, working relationships and patients better and these are always my constant wishes to improve on.

The balance in being brave, critical and balanced in thinking whilst engaging change is a tough one to make, but one I will always strive for. I will continue in 2019, to push my service forward, see staff flourish, improve my own practice, be critical where necessary, and challenge those who I feel hold those processes back with personal, emotional views that inhibit the profession on the multi-professional and national stages. In my opinion being critical is an absolute must for development, offering an alternative view an absolute, but most importantly, do so in a way that commands respect from multiple perspectives through the skill and mastery of facilitating change that as a profession, I believe, we must develop further.

We have a fantastic profession and there are loads to be proud (and jolly) about, however, I don’t see things through rose tinted glasses, and I do know there are HUGE changes to make, but I still see the glass as half-full and I remain happy and positive (most of the time) about the future. In any culture there will be a mix of people and views, and I through 2019, will keep developing my knowledge of these, engage with those who offer different views, and challenge those whose values I just cannot find concordance with, as it is the professional values and behaviours of some that can at times influence the many. As well as being critical of the evidence base, I think the many should also develop and be confident enough to enhance critical enquiry across multiple mediums, sadly I know many who just feel inhibited through fear of reaction in SoMe and how they might be labelled.

So, in conclusion 2018 for Physiotherapy and the MSK arm of the profession has been a really advancing year in my opinion, there are loads to get involved in within the national new models of care, SoMe driven initiatives, evidence-based programmes, and local clinical practice progression, and so perhaps if you take those on they may aid your 2019 goals, like they have mine, good luck therefore with whatever you hope to achieve in 2019.

I wish anyone who is good enough to take the time to read this, my best wishes and kindest regards for the coming year.

Neil.

Reflections of a Dinosaur: Big R’s, the patient narrative and a final thought on myths in the debate on manual therapy.

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Neil Langridge, Consultant Physiotherapist, gives his personal reflection on the latest Big R’s conference here:

I have just got back into work this week after the Big R’s event over the weekend in Manchester. I was wondering how it would go as I had been asked to provide a keynote talk on the place for manual therapy in contemporary MSK practice. On my panel was Karli Gibson, a very level-headed and forward thinking physiotherapist who I think has a lot to offer the profession, and Adam Meakins, a specialist physiotherapist in the management of shoulder conditions who has built up quite a following within the profession, and has developed many strong arguments regarding the case for change.

The event proposed some really innovative ideas, but most importantly brought together individuals interested in better care for patients, improving the MSK offer to the public and I felt, all in the spirit of working together.

I was fully aware that my presentation and the subsequent discussion was likely to be a bit stormy, the session was moderated by Mark Reid, who I thought did a really good job. I have to firstly tip my hat and really congratulate Jack Chew and his team, which also applies to the Connect team who equally supported the event. I can’t fail to be impressed individually with Jack, who undoubtedly “walks the walk”, he is very forward thinking, very passionate and very gracious in the way he works complex areas of discussion and debate. His work is fairly unique in my opinion within our profession, and more like him would only be a good thing. His team, Rob, Jack, Mark et al likewise, very sensible, but willing to challenge the status quo and build from within, an impressive group.

The Connect team were also very appropriately vocal and led some really interesting workshops which I thoroughly enjoyed, and there were some great discussions on orthopaedic triage, FCP and what advanced practice is. I am gladly linked in with them to develop further strategies concerning excellence, and I know it will be a pleasure to work with them. This felt a lot better than the last meeting where topics such as “eradicate ultrasound!” felt very narrow, so this experience was miles more positive.

The patient stories were really powerful and humbling, Joletta, Adrian, Pete, and Tina all contributed hugely, I think there should be a patient voice on every panel in the future. Martin, a very entertaining, driven, enthusiastic physiotherapist from Kenya gave a great insight into Physiotherapy away from these shores, a great perspective driving presentation.

So, I made my little speech and I addressed a few thoughts that run round SoMe and within the profession and also I learned what the panel’s view were, which was really valuable. So, what did I learn and speak about;

  1. The term “low-value treatment” applied to MT is not seemingly that true. It depends what you define as value and then if you base it purely on economics, surprisingly against usual care it fairs well against exercise and better than usual GP care in many MSK conditions. Societal value tends to suggest that applied hands on to certain patient groups are valuable to those individual personally. So, when individuals speak of high and low value, ask, what do you mean, valuable to whom, and by what measure? Try it, you may find the answer is not as clear as you thought.Value Price
  2. The “Window of opportunity” – I know many are not fans of this term when applied to MT, but it is my opinion it applies to every intervention, whether education, exercise etc. The break in the pattern behaviour, belief, understanding, or a change in the perception and emotional response. We then use this to set the scene differently for the patient. So, when individuals say MT inappropriately uses the “window of opportunity” analogy, then ask do not our other interventions use similar processes?Open windows
  3. MT disempowers patients? I heard the patient stories relaying powerful messages they heard about being “weak, unstable, needing a stronger core, things being in and out”. Its always cringing and saddening on the part of a professional to hear those stories. It’s therefore in the message and the clinician behaviour that disempowers, and of course, you can plainly disempower by just talking to someone, it’s not unique to MT. Of course MT has the potential belief system associated with that as it can lead the patient to believe they need to see someone to fix them; once again, that’s the clinician, not the treatment. The disempowering therapist can lurk under any treatment system.
  4. Adam was asked what he doesn’t agree with regarding MT, all of it, some it etc? I was in total agreement that massage should not be an NHS offer. In terms of well-being if individuals wish for that then I see no problem with them accessing this outside the NHS. Handshake
  5. He didn’t agree with techniques being used even in the clinical context when the patient is lying on the treatment plinth. He did, however, seem concordant with the use of hands-on in the facilitation of movement, which seemed to be in some conflict with the strong message “Manual therapy sucks”.
  6. The panel discussed Harm; Adam stated that MT was “harmful”. I was conflicted with a previous statement that suggested all MT should be in a spa, whilst then saying it was harmful, I was also not sure what is meant by harm in this context. If it is harmful then ensuring it is within a clinical context would be key and moving that out to your local hairdresser (as suggested) might not be such a good idea. I would agree that the language around MT could be harmful to the process and perception of recovery, but the vast majority of MT physically is not, and no evidence was proposed that supported the perception of MT as a treatment method being harmful to patients.
  7. So, MT in the sense of relaxation and well-being – keep it out of the NHS, use as part of ongoing health and well-being if that is something the patient values.MT in the clinical context I propose can be used when patients are fearful, limited by pain and have tried initial education, reassurance, and exercise. Then you can “play with some processing” aiming to give the patient a different emotional perspective towards their condition.
  8. MT will get challenged about – “what are the mechanisms?” Well, the simple answer is we don’t know. My proposal is that there is no single mechanism, and multiple mechanisms will be at play, their effect on a socially constructed individual cannot be just down to the mechanics or basic physiology. The really important point for me is that this (IMO) is the case for all interventions. Some have a greater physiological and anatomical understanding of the effects than others but in Physiotherapy do we really know all the mechanisms at play after exercise, education, reassurance? Two people can say exactly the same reassuring commentary and the receiver of this could react in totally different ways to that advice. Therefore, a “truth” in these interactions is a pretty tough call. We can suggest them, but we don’t really know the interactions of all the possible neurobiological, emotional, physiological mechanisms and that is not unique to MT, so some sense of perspective is needed regarding this argument. So, we base the nature of success on some theoretical proposals and patient-reported outcomes. The same for any Physiotherapy MSK intervention. Maybe it looks a little like the picture below?

Tangled

In the end, I really found the 2 days inspiring. Within the panel, Karli brought pragmatism to the debate which resonated well with me, whilst Adam was considered in his responses and I have said this before, I agree with many of his proposals, but for any argument, for me to be convinced, I need strong positions of belief to be flexible in how they respond to differences of opinion, so we can all see the multiple perspectives rather than the singular one. I feel this was a common theme of how we move forward, gaining the multiple views and then finding common-ground to help in professional growth.

So, many voices were heard, and disagreement will always remain, but that’s Ok and very healthy. I think without individuals who push the questions then the conversations would not be where they are, which is so much better as we move away from strongly held doctrines, philosophies of our practice and consider the future for an evidence-based profession which is grounded in the patient story.

Neil Langridge.  Consultant Physiotherapist.

Managing Complexity In Musculoskeletal Conditions: Reflections From A Physiotherapist

I was fortunate enough to have been invited by Physio First to contribute to their journal ‘In Touch’ and I chose to write about managing complexity with the different types of ‘evidence’ that we deal with in a healthcare setting.

This is an area of interest for me and I still grapple with many areas of clinical practice.  These include balancing the normative and narrative examination, evaluating and weighting the evidence appropriately for the person seeking care in front of me and also reconciling and communicating the reasoning process within a person centred framework.  Clearly, this is work in progress and I hope this reflective piece demonstrates a movement in this direction.

I hope this paper is informative and useful in that it shares some of my deliberations, thoughts and perspectives in clinical care.

Many thanks to Physio First http://www.physiofirst.org.uk/ for giving me the opportunity to share this.

Managing complexity in MSK conditions In Touch Article

Fusion of perspectives

Please feel free to make comments and feedback your thoughts and views below.

 

 

“Passive” therapies: Responsibility; when, who and how?

A guest blog by Neil Langridge, Consultant Physiotherapist.  @neiljlangridge

I am looking forward to the up-coming “Reforming MSK Practice” event arranged by Chews Health and Connect Health and I have been invited to speak on “the place for manual therapy in contemporary MSK”. Initially my views were, “it’s been discussed a lot, can I add to this?” and “what I am I letting myself in for?”, as many of the audience will of course be of the view – “don’t reform it, just ditch it”.

Ditch it now logo

So, I decided to think carefully about whether a) should I speak B) if I do, what will my approach be? I also wanted to take into account the conversations regarding “passive therapies” in the context of reasoning and responsibility.  So, rather than being reflective I thought I would take a prospective stance and feed some of my thoughts into the debate prior to the event as a means to help me set out how to approach the heart sink topic that is “reforming manual therapy”, and I thought I would share these with anyone interested and potentially coming.

My first consideration (and really what this short blog is about) is to consider the understanding of what a passive therapy is. The term is really used a lot, and is used in numerous cases to describe a range of interventions. It gets linked with the term “low-value” and I thought this was worth exploring also at a later date.

It seems to me that some would suggest that “passive” is about the patient/service user etc as a recipient, is not activated and the responsibility of the “treatment” lies with someone else dispensing it (the clinician). The low value element may be that the costs to deliver the passive treatment do not impact on the costs of the pain and disability to society and the individual, and so provides a negative investment. Others may have different definitions but I will maintain those for now.

I think it is entirely clinically correct, morally appropriate and ethically sound to empower patients within our care to take control, self-manage and be activated towards recovery. This is without doubt a professional responsibility. It also seems good practice to me to hand the responsibility of wellness and recovery to the patient with information and education.

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Ok, so now to an alternative view, as I think this concept of passive and active is not as dichotomous as it has been presented, and as with all discussions, this one is  possibly a bit murkier, but with a lot more depth than just saying its one or the other.

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Let’s start with some simple questions, or maybe not so simple. When and how is the responsibility for the condition, symptom, and injury handed over to the clinician, and if it is, should it be and by how much? When is this handed back? Why would a patient hand the responsibility of their condition over? Well, highly likely you encounter this every day, all the time? There are patients who want to know what they can do for themselves, attend with great self-efficacy and are just ready to be activated with the right advice. There is nothing passive here, and they inherently would resist treatments that do not enhance control. Fantastic, enjoyable interactions, great outcomes, high value (less intervention face to face, and generally good self-efficacy = gets improvement and returns to society in a more positive position so adds a positive element to the “value” argument). The treatment is therefore led by the fact that their natural Behaviour is active, their outlook is active and so the treatment is active (if defined as being patient–led).

PExp1

If society was like this 100% of the time the whole make up of support, social care, medicine and our culture would be radically different.  The reality is we live in a supportive health culture where choices of behaviour are available, in other cultures it’s not so flexible, and the support network is just not there. However, we are in a culture (NHS/Social Care system) where there is a choice of care approaches based on numerous factors within the individual, and from external influences that can lead to behaviour within the patient, that may range from be very willing and active to very unwilling and passive.

As therapists we address a lack of recovery with first-line measures, education, exercise and reassurance being the main-stay of this approach.

PExp2

I believe that the choices therefore between active and passive can be underpinned more effectively by not simplifying the concept into “is the treatment passive or active?”, but understanding motivations, behaviours of the patient and oneself as a clinician and the subsequent interaction of that therapeutic alliance, let me try to explain.

In many interactions we as therapists try to be therapeutic and start to activate those who have beliefs that are more passive about their treatment but also there are those who need, for a time, to hand over responsibility to others. The responsibility for their condition can be draining, tiring and the need to hand that over, is an ask for help, and when it happens the immediate feeling of well-being is clear, we see this all the time in the caring professions.  Just off-loading the problem can be experienced as therapeutic. Now at this point we have to make a clinical call, how ready is the patient to make the changes that are needed to move onto self-recovery? How active is their behaviour? Would a treatment delivered by a clinician to a patient enhance a process of recovery, or negatively affect it?

old rehab photo

If we have accepted the responsibility for supporting the patient, how we approach this is a case for clinical reasoning not a simple decision of dichotomy, such as “do a passive therapy or don’t do it”. Understanding barriers to re-engagement will be key, and give far more information than basing a clinical decision on a simple algorithm. The barriers to recovery may not be a case of a lack of motivation, a passive approach, or a resistance to change. It may be case of what I would describe as “condition weariness”. They have been living with pain and disability and all the stresses and pressures that come with that. The ask for help does mean they are not wanting active self-management strategies, but some may need a blend, a time where they are feeling someone else bearing that burden with them and taking a greater responsibility of the condition for a period of time.

Ever heard the term when a patient phones up with an enquiry “who is looking after you?” this perfectly describes a really important supportive responsibility. Ever been stuck with something and someone has said “I will sort that for you”, you know it would be better if they showed you how to do it yourself, but sometimes you just want to hand it over, it doesn’t mean you won’t, with advice, give it a go next time, it just means right there and then, you need the responsibility taken off you, and you relax and the pressure is less.

There are times I believe when we “look after our patients” via what has been described as a “passive”, using hands to support movement, using gentle movements to areas of the MSK system to aid a perceptual change, emotional alteration and facilitate an alternative pain experience to a task or function. This is passive in terms of not “patient led” but it is active in its emotional support if chosen and applied appropriately with the right information, explanation and language.

We share our treatments, we don’t / shouldn’t apply them in silence and look to offer good psychologically informed measures that support the emotional side of the patient presentation. Initiating a time where they experience a reduction in symptoms, whilst being psychologically supported and seeing that their function can be altered can (in my opinion) be empowering as long as the so called “passive” intervention has active emotional support and is a on a pathway towards self-determination and is not over-complicated by mis-interpretation and pretentious, confusing explanations and language.

When we treat a patient and they believe they are receiving it rather than doing it for themselves it hands-over responsibility for a time to the clinician and this “break”, even if short gives possibly a freedom to re-calibrate their thoughts. That’s how I now see hands-on treatments; a break in the process that helps the individual re-frame the recovery experience, to see it differently, to have an alternative view. Some have described this as a “window of opportunity”, some really dislike that term, in essence, it’s a pause in the process, a change in the current behavioural response and this can perhaps means the patient sees the art of the possible enhancing autonomy and confidence.

In my opinion I am not changing anything with my hands really other than the influencing the body and minds’ perceptions, awareness and emotions towards their condition in ways that stimulate a range of sensations that if managed and formulated correctly, can be a positive therapeutic experience.

Lastly;

For me a “passive therapy” is a therapy that is driven by the clinician’s unwillingness to set a goal of autonomy and this subsequently feeds a lack of confidence in the patient. Therefore IMO, it is not the treatment that is passive it is the behaviour of the clinician that lacks activation. In behaving in a passive way and doing so when given the responsibility for the condition, these clinicians act unfairly, unwisely and inappropriately by not developing a strategy of responsibility handover.

Perhaps the wise clinician will know how much responsibility to take, when to take it, how to enhance it and when to hand it back, and this should not be seen as condition specific, but person specific.

Neil Langridge, Consultant Physiotherapist

Knowledge Translation: Is There A Disconnect Between The Interpretation of Clinical Research and Clinical Practice in the 10/10 Connect Health Guidelines?

I too had the pleasure of receiving an invitation to the amusingly titled ‘Big R’s’ and enjoyed excellent company and conversation. Jack Chew and colleagues are to be commended for hosting the event with Connect Health with a proposition to “Reason” with “Responsibility” and the idea of “Reforming” musculoskeletal practice. Connect Health should also be congratulated for putting forwards their values, strategic goals and aspirations in such an open environment.   It is in the spirit of the three ‘R’s that I would like to focus on a common theme throughout the evening that has been touched upon by Neil earlier with respect to knowledge translation.

Connect Health, put forward, as part of their “10/10 MSK Guidelines” (http://www.connecthealth.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Connect-Health-10-out-of-10-Infographic.pdf) for improving efficiency, reducing clinical variation and improving clinical outcomes, a traffic light system that stipulates the appropriate treatment interventions according to each presenting condition. The justification for the traffic light system is emboldened by a speech bubble that reads:

“If you read one article per day, you’d be 20 years behind, so we needed to close this gap and help our clinicians have evidence at (sic) finger tips”.

This suggests that the traffic light system provides a solution to knowledge translation between ‘evidence’ and practice.

Traffic Light Connect Health

I would like to attempt to unpack some of the challenges surrounding knowledge translation and the use of a traffic light system. The traffic light system appears to convey a linear and non-value laden indicator of efficacy. They categorise ‘evidence’ into red (ineffective treatment indicating that clinicians should not do this intervention), amber (uncertain, consider after other treatment interventions) and green (effective, do this treatment) lights. At first glance, this may seem a reasonable, simple and effective method. Let’s take a closer look, first of all, what is knowledge?

Aristotle described three main aspects to the concept of knowledge. They are episteme, techne and phronesis:

  1. Episteme means, “to know” in Greek. It represents knowledge as ‘facts’ and Plato contrasted this with ‘doxa’which meant common belief or opinion. For example, a therapist may need ‘to know’ many areas of human biology in order to understand how exercise can be utilised as an intervention to treat back pain or to prevent cardiovascular disease.
  2. Techne translated from Greek means craftsmanship or skill. It draws from knowledge but is situated in the skill of its delivery. For example, a therapist may be knowledgeable in the theory of motivational interviewing but struggles with the skill of its delivery.   Techne also includes tacit(understood or implied without being stated) knowledge. Tacit knowledge is embodied, sub-conscious and embedded to personal experience and is the type of knowledge that is very difficult to record or write down. For example, emotional intelligence, communication skills, leadership skills and clinical intuition are commonly cited in healthcare research and practice but are very difficult to conceive or teach.
  3. Phronesis means practical wisdom. It relates to the ethical deliberation of values with reference to practice. It is related to praxis in that it refers to an action that embodies a commitment to human well being, the search for truth and respect for others. It requires that a person make a wise and prudent practical judgement about how to act in this situation (Carr and Kemmis, 1986: 190).

These aspects of knowledge described by Aristotle form an individual’s knowledge. Now, referencing back to the traffic light system. Immediately, you can see that the traffic light system delivers one of the aspects of knowledge, namely episteme, but provides little or no reference to techne or phronesis. Its creator(s) must have made this synthesis of ‘evidence’ with some value judgement as to what good evidence is and is not, but it is not clear how this judgement has been made. One assumes that this judgement was based on an evidence-based hierarchy but it does beg the following questions. Who created the judgements? To whom does their purpose serve, the patient, a population, the therapist(s), the organisation or all of them, and in what way? Does it achieve those aims and at what cost? What values are being accounted for (clinical outcome, financial, quality of life of patients, therapist understanding)? What judgements are made in order to delineate an amber intervention as opposed to a green or red intervention? For example, Pharmacology treatment is cited within the low back pain +/- radiculopathy traffic light system as a “green light”. This is despite pharmacological studies evaluating paracetamol being ineffective for spinal pain and osteoarthritis (Machedo et al, 2015) (http://www.bmj.com/content/350/bmj.h1225), NSAID’s not showing clinically important difference against placebo for spinal pain (Machedo et al, 2017) (http://ard.bmj.com/content/76/7/1269) and Pregabalin not being effective for moderate to severe sciatica (Machieeson et al, 2017) (http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa1614292?rss=searchAndBrowse#t=article) amongst other examples. Clearly, the context may be of utmost importance here such as the stage of the disorder, presentation, co-morbidities, and presence of barriers to recovery, previous response to treatment amongst a dearth of other relevant information. The question remains, is the underlying context revealed using the traffic light system?

Creating a hierarchy of evidence is in itself is fraught with problems and challenges. Further discussion of these challenges are beyond the scope of this blog and the literature is extensive but I would encourage readers to watch Trish Greenhalgh speaking about ‘Real verses Rubbish EBM’ here (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qYvdhA697jI) and work from Roger Kerry (http://www.mskscienceandpractice.com/article/S2468-7812(17)30153-4/fulltext) as well as work from the CauseHealth team (https://causehealthblog.wordpress.com) (https://philpapers.org/archive/ANJD.pdf) (http://ubplj.org/index.php/ejpch/article/viewFile/1129/1129) and also the Alliance for Useful Evidence (http://www.alliance4usefulevidence.org/assets/What-Counts-as-Good-Evidence-WEB.pdf).

Knowledge does not exist in isolation but exists within a social context. An exchange of knowledge occurs through shared cultural understanding, practices and assumptions and not by a mere exchange of factual information. The traffic light system appears to specify an absolute system of context-free judgements on clinical practice regardless of individual and environmental factors. For example, the abandonment of the use of therapeutic ultrasound was posited as a “good place to start” when reforming MSK practice. However, experts in electrotherapy such as Professor Tim Watson are likely to hold exception to such rules as the evidence demonstrates efficacy if sufficient treatment dose, within the context of an appropriate tissue injury and healing stage, has been provided (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpMFI7UPwMo). Interestingly enough, this is the same as many other treatment interventions in Physiotherapy, including, dare I say it, exercise! A more appropriate suggestion might be that therapeutic ultrasound should not be justified in areas of practice where environmental and practical elements prohibit its efficacy, e.g. using therapeutic ultrasound in a sub-acute muscle tear once every two weeks. As a potential consequence of using a broad brush-stroke approach of describing all therapeutic ultrasound as lacking in sufficient evidence, and therefore abandon its use, is very likely to polarise the MSK community rather than bring it together in a reform of practice, particularly bereft of context. (P.S I would like to declare that I do not use therapeutic ultrasound in my practice, as I do not see the appropriate caseload or work in an environment that would constitute its effective delivery).

Perhaps polarising views could be a way to draw people into a debate or discussion and perhaps this could be the right thing to do? But, I can’t help but think that this approach might be rather disengaging and autocratic, using evidence as a proverbial stick to beat you over the head with. It might be seen that organisations could try to ‘kitemark’ what is good evidence and drag the MSK community of practice “up with it”. However, I can not avoid the feeling that a close relationship exists between knowledge and power with evidence being described as “what powerful people say it is” and, that in its pursuit, could lead onto stifling significant change in practice rather than foster and grow it (http://www.ruru.ac.uk/newsevents.html).   Indeed, creating policies without broader considerations could be seen as using rhetoric to achieve the goals of an organisation with an undertone of efficiency making, cost-cutting, money saving and the handcuffing of professional autonomy.

Gabbay and Le May (2011) describe ‘clinical mindlines’ that go far beyond guidelines as “internalised, collectively reinforced and often tacit guidelines that are informed by clinicians’ training, by their own and others clinical experience, by their interactions with their role sets, by their role sets, by their reading, by the way that they have learnt to handle the conflicting demands, by their understanding of local circumstances and systems and by a host of other systems” (Gabay and Le May, 2011 p 44). One could look at the social media explosion surrounding the big R’s event as well as Physiotherapy continued professional development over the last five years and see it in a way that builds clinical mindlines, but perhaps with some unforeseen consequences. Less experienced therapists that seek knowledge through social media may experience a gold mine, full of forward thinking and verbose well-meaning healthcare professionals. What in actual fact, they might receive is ‘doxa’ or common opinion without much critical thinking surrounding such information. All the more reason for open discussion, deliberation and debate!

The vision of providing a system that values reducing clinical variation is both compelling but also concerning. Allowing clinical reflexivity and context-dependent, autonomous decision-making should be rewarded and at the same time ensuring effective clinical reasoned interventions. Is this process one in which is embodied with a traffic light system of intervention that appears to rewards technicians and not skilled practitioners?

Knowledge translation is a complex, dynamic and reflexive process and might best be viewed like this:

Process of transferring knowledge into action

Dr Vicky Ward, Dr Simon Smith, Dr Samantha Carruthers, Dr Susan Hamer, Professor Allan House (2010) Accessed 19/11/2017 18:52 http://medhealth.leeds.ac.uk/info/662/kt_framework/774/project_report_and_publications

This is quite a contrast to the traffic light system and is food for thought in comparison. However, the traffic light system is a start, especially for newly qualified therapists using it as a heuristic for guiding clinical practice. Clearly, this blog asks more questions than it does answer any, but I have tried to put forward some suggestions that might be helpful.

  1. Providing an open and transparent process for judging clinical guidance.
  2. Acknowledge one’s own clinical practice, research assumptions, values, judgements and beliefs as our ‘facts’ are always value-laden.
  3. Provide a framework for understanding and signpost where the gaps of our knowledge are and promote reflective practice.
  4. Be open regarding our aspirations for the future, which may provide opportunities to use evidence in a more informed and reflexive way.
  5. Encourage clinical mindlines by discussion, debate and use the application of multiple sources of ‘evidence’ at the same time as acknowledging the limitations of the methods from which they came.

I would also like to add Roger Kerry’s key messages from his recent paper ‘Expanding our perspectives on research in musculoskeletal science and practice’ in the Musculoskeletal Science and Practice journal as they are very relevant (http://www.mskscienceandpractice.com/article/S2468-7812(17)30153-4/pdf).

  1. Clinical practice should be based on best evidence, and an era of “clinical freedom” should not be returned to.
  2. As scientific research exponentially grows within musculoskeletal medicine, it is timely to re-examine what constitutes the best evidence for clinical decision making and health policy.
  3. Traditional scientific principles on which much existing research is based are dated and limited by real-world complexity, and a crisis period in both research and practice is now evident.
  4. A research vision for the future is focused on knowledge generation which is truly person-centred and embraces real-world complexity, rather than controlling for it.
  5. The research future should incorporate greater alliances between all stakeholders and expand its context and theories.
  6. Clinicians, researchers, and the people we work with to improve their health should continue to reconceptualise the idea of best evidence for clinical decision-making and health policy.