Physio patients may have to wait in cars before appointments

The phone lines at Shelbourne Physiotherapy and Massage started ringing Wednesday after Premier John Horgan announced that services such as physiotherapy, registered massage therapy and chiropractors could reopen under new health and safety guidelines.

“I had a whole bunch of texts from friends saying: ‘Yay, you get to open middle of the month,’ and many phone calls from clients calling in, saying: ‘I want to book in next week,’ ” clinic owner Penny Salmas said Thursday. “But I had to tell them: ‘We’re not open next week. It won’t be before the 19th.’ ”

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The College of Physical Therapists of B.C. is developing guidelines that will outline expectations for a graduated return to work after the long weekend in May. The process will involve input from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and the Ministry of Health about requirements for infection prevention and control, and personal protective equipment.

“Their No. 1 concern is probably infection procedures and screening clients before they come in, making sure they are symptom-free,” Salmas said. “I’m still waiting to hear from our college, but I think physiotherapists will definitely be masked and gloved.” Keeping clients two metres apart in the waiting room is also a big concern, she said.

Shelbourne Physiotherapy, which employs 60 staff at three locations and has seen 80,000 clients over 20 years, is considering telling people to wait in their cars and only come in at their appointment time. Chairs from the waiting room will probably be put in the hallway, or outside, appropriately spaced, she said.

Chronic-pain clients have called her daily, asking her to see them. Some are desperate to come in, she said. “I have to tell them I can’t see them. I can only see the most urgent of urgent cases. And that’s a tough thing. It’s not in my nature to say no.”

Meanwhile, Salmas has been offering virtual physiotherapy and found it is surprisingly effective for some clients, but not a solution for everyone.

Return to practice for massage therapists will also take place under the guidance of the provincial health officer and will likely be a gradual process, subject to limits and restrictions, says the College of Massage Therapists of B.C. The college said it has received many questions about personal protective equipment, but it’s unlikely to play a significant role in the return to practice. “All other factors matter more: physical-distancing being the most important for all in-clinic non-treatment interactions, followed by regular hand-washing and cleaning of contact surfaces,” says an update on its website.

The College of Chiropractors of B.C. said it welcomes the return of chiropractors to their practice and will continue to follow the provincial health officer’s direction. It said it has been working steadily with B.C.’s regulatory colleges, government and other stakeholders to develop guidance for chiropractors since the onset of COVID-19 in anticipation of the re-opening of chiropractic practices.

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