Objectives It has been observed by physical therapists and patients that treatment of patients with rheumatic diseases by physical therapists is hampered by a lack of specific knowledge and technical and communicative skills. Moreover, co-ordination between different health professionals involved in the treatment has been perceived as not optimal. Aim of the study was to set up a system of continuous improvement of specific knowledge and skills regarding the physiotherapeutic treatment of patients with rheumatic diseases and to start networks of physical therapists working in primary care, hospitals and rehabilitation centres.
Methods In November 1999 all physical therapists working within the catchment area of two rheumatological centres (Leiden, Enschede) were invited to participate. Education programmes were organised in parallel in both regions and consisted of a 5-day postgraduate training programme, followed by 2-monthly seminars. The programme focussed on examination and treatment of patients with rheumatic diseases and on communication with patients with a chronic disease. Communication among health professionals was enhanced by teaching practices within the rheumatological centres and by developing a draft guideline on communication among health professionals. Outcome measurements included questionnaires on the organisation, didactics and contents of the training programme (6-point scales, range 1; very bad to 6; very good), knowledge, interdisciplinary communication and patient satisfaction.
Results 63 of the 64 physical therapists (98.4%) finished the education programme and were formally registered. Evaluation of the training programme measured directly after each part of it showed positive scores with respect to contents, didactics and organisation (all medians 5, ranges 2–6). Knowledge scores increased significantly directly following the training programme (p < 0.001; Mann Whitney U). Measurements regarding the effectiveness on quality of care (interdisciplinary communication and patient satisfaction) will be completed in 2001.
Conclusions The preliminary results indicate that setting up a system of networks and continuing education for physical therapists with respect to the treatment of patients with rheumatic diseases is feasible. The complete set of results will be available by the end of 2001. Further research will focus on the implementation of the system on a larger scale. Funded by The Health Research and Development Council of The Netherlands; ZON.