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Suffering from Compartment Syndrome

Sometimes it is amazing to see just what people will go through simply to look good. We are used to seeing stories in the papers on a virtually daily basis about how this foodstuff or that drink will completely transform our energy, complexion, body shape or mood; but similar stories about what we wear are not as prevalent.

It was interesting therefore this week to see two stories about clothing hit the headlines. The first story was from a journalist in Los Angeles who set out to wear high heels for an entire day. By early evening, he had called off the experiment as he was in so much pain.

The second story related to the wearing of skinny jeans. Researchers in Australia reported that a 35-year-old woman had suffered from bleeding and swelling of her leg muscles, caused by spending an extensive period squatting to clean out cupboards whilst wearing skinny jeans. The condition experienced by the Australian woman has been named as compartment syndrome but tight fitting trousers have also been blamed for a number of conditions including heartburn and twisted testicles.

Whilst these examples may seem isolated, the fact is that physiotherapists and other health practitioners are regularly called on to relieve the symptoms of those who have damaged muscles and ligaments thanks to their choice of clothing. The Los Angeles journalist may have been in so much pain because he had come to high heel wearing without proper preparations but according to the American Osteopathic Association high heels are one of the biggest factors leading to foot problems in women, with one in three high heel wearers suffering permanent damage. If skinny jeans are now to be added to the list of potentially harmful clothing, particularly if compartment syndrome starts to become a regular problem for fashion-conscious home cleaners, then osteopaths physiotherapists and others are in for a busy time.

And that’s just the start of the clothing-damage story.  In recent times we’ve also heard tales of people setting out to climb steep hillsides whilst wearing flip flops, tripping over long skirts, and even wrenching necks whilst putting on tight tops. It seems as though when it comes to looking good, practicality goes out of the window. Perhaps it’s not surprising therefore that our health professionals, particularly physiotherapists and chiropractors, are increasingly under time pressure.

As a result, whilst health practitioners are relieving the symptoms of clothing related injuries including compartment syndrome, they need to do something to ensure that their time is spent as productively as possible.  So they in turn looking towards virtual assistant services to relieve the time pressure caused by full client books. Even something as simple as a call answering and appointment booking service can make a measurable difference to daily pressures

With calls being answered in a prompt and professional manner in the name of the health practice, clients are reassured that they are dealing with a professional practice. Other benefits include never having to miss a call or interrupt a consultation to take a call. With unwanted sales calls also being screened, health practitioners can concentrate on patient treatments.

Seasonal Flu

Autumn may have started with a blaze of sunshine but hopes of lingering summer weather have now been well and truly dashed by the arrival of storms and heavy rain. It’s a stark reminder of the longer nights, dwindling temperatures and gradual descent into frost and slush that we will have to endure before summer once again peeps over the horizon.

The arrival of Autumn also heralds the start of this year’s flu jab campaign.  According to Public Health England, only 52% of those with an underlying illness took up the free jab offer last year (2013) and PHE are keen to increase that percentage as much as possible this winter.

So the call has gone out for young children, the elderly and those with underlying conditions to take up the challenge and get protected.  Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Government’s Chief Medical Officer said “I would urge those who are offered the free flu vaccination to visit their GP early in the flu season. I also urge all health care workers to make sure they are vaccinated to protect themselves, their patients and their families.”

When we think of the flu jab we naturally tend to think of it in terms of prevention of the flu itself but there are a number of other consequences of flu which put a strain on our health services. One of the more common of these is the need for some form of osteopath or chiropractic treatment as muscles or ligaments become strained thanks to the effects of coughing. When we cough or sneeze we put a tremendous percussive force on our bodies and this can lead to back and other injuries.

The effect of this is that not only do health practitioners need to stay healthy themselves to continue to treat their normal patients, they also have extra calls on their time to treat these flu-related injuries. And really these couldn’t come at a worse time.  One good bout of overnight frost and icy pavements add to slips and falls whilst icy roads lead to crashes.  These too put a strain on our health services with physiotherapists and other health practitioners having to cope with the aftermath of broken bones and strains.

Of course, if we all took up the flu-jab challenge then our health service would be far better off but as that is an ‘ideal world’ scenario it means that once again our health services may be stretched this winter.  Anything which can help to mitigate that pressure is therefore welcome and that is why numbers of health practices are adopting ways of working which will reduce the strain on their own resources.  Areas such as electronic filing of records, appointment reminders and the use of virtual assistant services to answer calls and book appointments can all help to smooth out administration time and therefore add to the time available for treatment.

As Public Health England says “Each winter hundreds of thousands of people see their GP and tens of thousands are hospitalised because of flu.” That puts a huge strain on resources so it’s no wonder that they are campaigning for as many people as possible to be vaccinated this year.

The power of sport

It may be the top sportsmen and women who hit the headlines but the power of sport to engage and enthuse at all levels never ceases to amaze.  From rumbustious back street kick-abouts to photos in the Guardian recently of Brazilian children practicing overhead kicks on a flooded pitch; sport can be a unifying and defining activity.

One thing is certain, with Wimbledon and the World Cup around the corner, our streets and parks will soon be filled with enthusiastic sports players all dreaming that one day they will be able to emulate Murray or Messi, Nadal or Neymar.  But, played at any level, sport can come at a price.

That price is the chance of injury.  You may be a top flight sportsperson, used to training every day and carefully balancing nutrients to optimise body health and fitness.  You may be a weekend player, turning out for the local team before heading off for a drink; or you may be an occasional player, turning out with short bursts of enthusiasm before retreating to more sedentary forms of support.  Whatever level you play at, the odds are that injury will hit at some stage.  And when injury hits, the quicker it is treated the better.

For health professionals such as physiotherapists, chiropractors, sports injury practitioners and osteopaths, the challenge is to be on hand to treat regular clients, whilst at the same time squeezing in more immediate cases.  No-one wants to leave diary slots vacant but equally no-one wants to turn down prospective patients.  The answer is to take every opportunity to ensure that prospective clients can make and attend appointments.

Online booking will capture some clients but others may prefer to speak to a person at the end of a phone.  Switching phones to a virtual assistant will help to ensure that when the phone rings, someone will answer without the need to interrupt ongoing treatments to answer the phone. In fact, using a virtual assistant service has multiple benefits including improving the image of the health practice, establishing a dialogue with clients and freeing up treatment time which would otherwise be spent in answering or returning telephone calls.

Once the appointment has been made it is important both for the patient and the health practice to ensure that treatment starts in the timescale agreed. No-shows not only delay the start of important treatments, they leave empty gaps in health practitioners’ diaries which could have been filled by other patients.

Encouraging clients to keep the appointments which they have made is a two-fold process.  Appointment reminders sent out via SMS text or e-mail have been shown both in the NHS and private practice to reduce the number of no-shows.  Similarly, confirming bookings with a pre-authorised debit or credit card sum also serves to improve attendance rates, generally because this means that the health practice can take a non-attendance fee in accordance with advertised practice.

World cups, tournaments, championships; the sporting calendar rolls ever onwards and with every passing phase brings a new crop of injuries.  Making sure that they are on hand to provide prompt treatment will earn health professionals their own niche in the sporting hall of fame.

Innovation Grant for British School of Osteopathy

When finances and funding sit so firmly at the heart of the NHS it can sometimes seem as though every attempt to instil a culture of care is beset by financial restrictions.  Not that care and compassion should be affected by finances but it can be hard to provide a quality service when time and energy is spent in scratching around for cash.

It is therefore good to be able to report on the British School of Osteopathy which has recently been awarded a significant innovation grant.  Totalling just over £250,000 spread over a three year period the grant will enable the BSO to develop a new service called OsteoMAP.

According to the BSO website, “OsteoMAP is designed to support people with long-term musculoskeletal pain, which may be alleviated but is unlikely to be completely resolved by manual therapy alone.”  The programme will initially be developed at the BSO’s clinical centre and then rolled out via training courses to students and qualified osteopaths across the UK.

In recognising and developing multi-layered treatments which address the physical and psychological effects of certain conditions this programme should both reduce the burden on hospital services and help the health services to deliver the Government’s aim of a more patient focused treatment regime.

One of the side-effects of this programme is that community osteopaths are likely to become more involved in the treatment of long term conditions and this could add to the patient mix.  Those osteopaths who have switched to a more streamlined appointment, diary management and patient notes system may be in the best position to take advantage of this increased treatment requirement.

In effect, the more time which is freed up from administration the better.  With phone calls answered by a virtual receptionist the osteopath or other health professional can concentrate on providing distraction-free quality care to their patients.  And when it comes to a treatment such as osteopathy or physiotherapy, the less distraction the better.  Interrupted treatments can not only be less effective, the very fact of an interruption can cause anxiety in patients leading to muscle tension.

Grants such as that announced by the British School of Osteopathy can only help to drive forward quality care in our health service.  Targeted, patient-focused and aimed at providing long term therapies for lifelong conditions; treatment regimes such as OsteoMAP will reduce the day to day burden on hospitals and enable people to live a better quality of life.

Going paperless

The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has set out plans for a paperless NHS by 2018.  In a speech to the Policy Exchange the Health Secretary said that a series of milestones would mark key stages towards the eventual goal.  These include hospitals being able to accept electronic records by 2014 with 2015 seeing electronic referrals in place.

In advance of the announcement a report by PwC suggested that over £4 billion could be saved within the NHS by better use of information and technology.  This includes automatic referrals, e-prescriptions and the smart use of technology increasing the time clinicians spend with patients thus leading to a reduction in waiting times.

This latest drive towards a paperless NHS has been broadly welcomed with the only scepticism coming from those who suffered from the failure of the previous attempt by Labour to bring in a centralised NHS system.  This latest initiative avoids the “monolithic system” pitfalls by enabling health providers such as GP Practices and hospitals to commission their own systems which will merely be required to share records with other systems.  This means that health providers can develop, store and manage records in a way which suits them, subject to central sharing protocols.

There is no doubt that digitising records can save time and money.  For example, the John Taylor Hospice near Birmingham has more than doubled the time clinicians can spend with patients simply by using laptops.  But the drive towards a paperless NHS can also benefit others within the health care sector.  Software such as that offered by the Clinic Appointments patient records service is already helping health practitioners to digitise their patient records.  This means that records can be accessed 24/7, there is no time wasted in finding or sorting records and with clinical notes, x-rays and invoices all centrally handled the health practitioner can spend more time on treating patients.

Combined with the telephone answering and diary management service this means that while an osteopath or physiotherapist is treating one patient the Clinic Appointments team can take calls, book appointments and the health practitioner can then call up the next patient’s details at a touch of a button.  With faster administration time and no more worries about losing patient records in fire or floods clinicians can concentrate on what they do best, treating their patients.

Treating the Olympic legacy

When the UK team were bidding to host the Olympic Games, one of the arguments which swayed the decision makers was the importance placed on legacy. Press coverage of this aspect of the games emphasised the legacy implications of regenerating part of London with a secondary mission of improving sporting facilities in other areas of the UK.

However, for many legacy was a lip service addition to the games themselves. Not any more. The impact of the Olympics has seen an explosion of interest in sports across the UK. Clubs have seen a massive surge in enquiries from all ages and our streets are filling up with cyclists and joggers.

Admittedly this surge in interest has been partly helped by websites such as the “things to do*” and “join in local sport**” sites which have made it easier for those interested in local sport to find out what is on in their area. However, the sites are only being successful because of the interest in sport which our Olympic success has generated.

So, with sports clubs across the land putting on taster session and extra courses, some of which are filing up almost as soon as they are announced, and with joggers and cyclists taking to our streets in numbers it is inevitable that sooner or later there will be an increased call for those who treat sporting injuries. No matter how careful a sports club is, no matter how well regulated the training; injuries are a side effect of physical activity.

This means that physiotherapists and osteopaths, chiropractors and massagers may well be seeing an increase in requests for treatment. Taking advantage of this increased demand requires the ability to maximise treatment times and minimise other administration functions. This is where a virtual receptionist service comes in handy. While practitioners are concentrating in providing treatment, the virtual receptionist can arrange appointments, answer calls, send out invoices and manage patient records.

With all the long term benefits which sport and exercise brings we hope that the Olympic legacy will last for many years to come. Helping to treat those who have stumbled along the way, getting them back on the pathway to success is the task of physiotherapists and others. Taking the administrative strain, well that is the job of the Clinic Appointments team.


Helping the nation to work

Speaking  in April 2012, Legal & General director John Pollock said that the Government could save £billions if they adopted a coherent long term sickness absence policy.  Mr Pollock believes that the current sick pay system “doesn’t deliver the right mixture of support for employer or employee and is not delivering value for the taxpayer in the long term.”

In part the comments reflect the conclusion of an earlier report from November 2011 which stated that early health intervention helped to reduce sickness absence with specialist expertise playing an important role in promoting a swift return to work.  This in turn helps both the country’s budget and the individual’s wellbeing.

Of course, any report about sickness absence is likely to be the catalyst for some debate.  On the one hand the Government is actively seeking to move claimants from long term sickness benefits and back in to work.  On the other comes a report from Opinium which said that 12% of those taking sick leave in the first two months of 2012 were not ill enough to justify taking the time off.   In the middle we have the health and safety debate centring on whether those with illnesses such as colds and mild flu should go into work and risk passing their illness on or stay at home to protect their workmates.

Key to the debate is the degree to which early intervention is possible.  Certainly when it comes to muscle and skeletal problems, in general the earlier the intervention the swifter the cure.  OK there is the prevention is better than cure argument and that has led in general in recent years to workplaces adopting more stringent health and safety procedures. But no matter how careful someone is, there are going to be times when our muscles or ligaments give up on us.  And when that happens, it’s can never be too soon to start on an appropriate course of treatment. Those visiting  physiotherapists, chiropractors and osteopaths  may well be unable to work in the short term and the longer the injury goes untreated the more likely secondary problems may develop.

This requirement for speedy treatment places a logistical challenge on health professionals.  On the one hand they need to maintain a regular treatment schedule for existing patients whilst on the other hand time needs to be made available in order to start new treatments on those whose injuries have just occurred. The challenge for health professionals is therefore to maximise treatment times whilst making it easy for patients to contact and make appointments.

This is where a virtual receptionist service comes into its own.  Professionally trained receptionists can take calls, book appointments and answer simple patient queries leaving the health professional free to provide treatment. With appointment reminders sent to reduce “no shows” the use of a virtual receptionist service can help to ensure that the maximum number of patients are treated in the time available.  This helps to ensure early intervention and therefore speeds up the return to work.  Whilst we can’t do much about those taking a “sickie”, a virtual receptionist service can make the difference both for those who need to see a healthcare professional quickly and for the professionals themselves who wish to maximise their working time.

Contact us today to discover how Clinic Appointments can help your clinic. Book your free demo call now to learn more.