Evolution of an occupational health physiotherapy service

Connect Health’s physiotherapy service model recognises that treatment is only one part of managing musculoskeletal risk.

Occupational health physiotherapy service Connect Health has developed a service model that goes beyond delivering treatment services. The model is based around the four areas of prevention, assessment, treatment and rehabilitation.

In 2015, OH physiotherapy service Connect Health was providing a range of services, mostly focused around an on-site offering, delivering treatment services from the client’s premises. While this is an important part of any OH strategy, it is only one element of what should be a more holistic approach to workplace health and wellbeing.

It was at this point that Connect began to develop a new model for OH services – one that spread the focus across four key areas:

  • prevention;
  • assessment;
  • treatment; and
  • rehabilitation.

All of these have a set of specific, defined services that can be combined to create a bespoke plan for any organisation to combat musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).


Prevention services focus on two key areas: health and wellbeing interventions, and training services. This creates a proactive service approach designed to support all employees, and focuses on the prevention of MSDs and health promotion through employee engagement.

Through health and wellbeing, and musculoskeletal screening services, Connect teaches an understanding of health parameters and musculoskeletal status, driving key messages through on-site physiotherapists associated with best practice, injury prevention and health promotion.

Within this, employees are encouraged to consider their general health, outside of simply MSDs. The service supports health and wellbeing initiatives that are designed to give individuals more responsibility for their own health, increasing self-management and lowering the risk of injury.

Adopting the principle that “every conversation counts” means that each interaction with a patient is an opportunity to learn, reinforce and teach.

Connect offers a range of standardised training packages that draw from the supporting evidence base, promote best practice, and educate delegates to prevent injury and adopt better health behaviour. Training programmes are always bespoke to a client’s business and tailored to the audience. The aim is to provide an educational and meaningful learning experience, designed to give targeted groups an understanding of injury prevention and health and wellbeing issues.


The aim of assessment services is to identify predisposing factors to musculoskeletal injury associated with both the working environment and the individual.

These services follow a continuous improvement process, ensuring that the correct assessment is carried out and intervention is delivered based on the needs of the organisation and individual involved.

Assessments include a patient-led, general ergonomic evaluation of an individual at a workstation or a workplace. More focused ergonomic risk assessments look at a more specific task or series of tasks that have been identified as having the potential to cause injury; help with understanding the process; and making the necessary adjustments. These are carried out by physiotherapists that specialise in ergonomics.


Treatment services are very much still at the heart of Connect’s model, and can be both on and off-site, through a network of approved physiotherapy partners.

However, on-site service provision has evolved to take into account the full service model, providing prevention, assessment, treatment and rehabilitation services.

Our physiotherapists provide advice and guidance around promotion of best practice in the workplace, support for health promotion activities, patient-led and ergonomic assessments, clinical assessment and treatment, and functional rehabilitation.

Another innovation is the PhysioLine service. This was introduced in 1999, initially into the community services division as a means of advice and triage. Within OH, Connect recognises the importance of offering ongoing advice and support to employees.

For this reason, PhysioLine has evolved to offer staff immediate access to a qualified OH physiotherapist over the telephone, who can deliver an initial assessment, as well as tailored advice and education.

Acting as a triage service, physiotherapists can refer the employee to further face-to-face treatment if necessary. Alternatively, the worker can continue to be managed over the phone, providing ongoing advice and support remotely to help self-manage.


Where there are employees with long-term, chronic conditions that restrict an individual’s capacity to work, or an employee has numerous episodes of absence associated with the same condition, then rehabilitation services can help.

Focused rehabilitation services adopt a biopsychosocial approach to ensure a sustained return to work and prevention of further associated absence. Functional testing and exploration of psychosocial barriers provide the baseline for these programmes, which include both physical rehabilitation and education. An OH physiotherapist’s knowledge of the site activities will drive the rehabilitation plan and allow for appropriate progression to be made.

Functional capacity evaluations (FCE) include a series of evidence-based, functional tests and psychosocial outcome measures aimed at replicating an individual’s work practices and determining their fitness for work.

The functional rehabilitation programme (FRP) is a comprehensive programme for employees with chronic MSDs. It adopts a biopsychosocial approach by improving an employee’s physical limitations through bespoke exercise.

Nicola Suckley, OH national accounts director for Connect, says: “Connect understands that a more holistic view of the employees’ wellbeing and their varying health needs can help to inform more effective solutions, and our new comprehensive service model aims to achieve this.”

As well as the service evolution, there has been significant investment in supporting areas, such as IT, with the development of a bespoke, cloud-based case management platform called Agility. Agility can be accessed by both patients and managers. Patients can access treatment and exercise plans as well as further condition-specific and health and wellbeing information, while managers can refer employees and view ongoing management reports.

Agility will be launched this year, and will simplify the whole assessment, treatment and reporting process. This is part of a wider programme with the goal of becoming a SEQOHS (Safe, Effective, Quality Occupational Health Service) accredited provider in 2017.

Andrew Walton, executive chairman of Connect, says: “Becoming SEQOHS accredited is just the next step in our desire to be as clinically effective and operationally efficient as possible in all areas of the business, and we have fantastic colleagues throughout the organisation driving towards those goals.”

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