As people age, they may require additional medical care to manage chronic conditions or maintain their overall health. This can include the services of allied health professionals such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, and dietitians. These services can be costly, but many older adults still residing at home (including in a retirement living facility), may be eligible for funding or reimbursement to help cover the costs.
Community based allied health services may be available through publicly funded community health services, but more often by practitioners operating in private practices. Access to these services may be supported through government programs or other sources of funding.
General treatment insurance, more typically referred to as ‘Extras’ cover, can help fund the cost of allied health treatments. However, there is significant variation in what individual policies cover and it is likely that a gap will need to be charged to the individual. Allied health professionals will need to provide invoices which include ABN, date of service, practice address and full patient details along with an item code for the service provided.
Alternatively, older adults receiving palliative care may be deemed eligible to access funded services, including allied health services, through the My Aged Care portal. The individual can be referred by a family member or health professional and will then be assessed by either a Regional Assessment Service (RAS) or an Aged Care Assessment Team (ACAT) to determine their level of need. They may then be assigned funding through either Commonwealth Home Support Program if they require only minimal support, or through a Home Care Package if they have more complex needs. Once an individual is assigned funding, they are able to access a range of allied health services including but not limited to physiotherapy, podiatry, speech pathology, occupational therapy and dietetics.
Building your allied health practice with older adults on home care packages requires a combination of marketing, relationship building, and providing high-quality services. Here are some steps you can take to build your practice:
- Establish relationships with home care providers: Build relationships with home care providers and care coordinators to become their preferred referral partner. Educate them on the services you provide and how they can benefit their clients.
- Offer specialized services: To differentiate yourself from other allied health service providers, consider offering services that cater to the needs of older adults receiving palliative care. Highlighting further learning you may have undertaken in palliative care can position you well to promote these specialized services.
- Provide exceptional service: Deliver services that are tailored to meet the unique needs of your clients. This involves taking the time to understand your client's individual needs and personal preferences. Provide a high-quality service that exceeds expectations to ensure positive feedback and referrals. Word of mouth can be important in creating strong referral partnerships.
- Create ongoing relationships: Establish ongoing relationships with your clients and their families to build trust, allowing them to feel comfortable and confident enough to recommend your services to others.
- Continuously adapt to the changing environment: Continuously adapt to changes in the aged care industry and stay updated with the latest evidence for best practice, funding and technologies (e.g. telehealth) to remain relevant and successful.
The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety (Royal Commission) identified several areas that affect aged care residents in relation to the health system, one of which included limited access to allied health professionals in aged care facilities.
To address this, Primary Health Networks are being funded to improve access. This approach supports the Aged Care Quality Standards and will help build better integration between aged care providers and the healthcare system. As PHNs know the local aged care health and service needs they can use this knowledge to best support aged care facilities.
PHNs will work with and inform residential aged care facilities on these activities during their development over the coming months.
Expanding program activities will soon include:
- activities to support healthy ageing
- information for providers and consumers on referral pathways for people with dementia
- aged care clinical referral pathways.
PHNs will also help aged care facilities set up telehealth equipment so residents can consult health professionals virtually. Additionally, sharing healthcare information to platforms like My Health Record will help residents keep their medical history up to date.
How you can create referral pathways in aged care:
- Build relationships with aged care facilities: Allied health professionals should establish strong relationships with aged care facilities by attending networking events, getting involved in local associations, and could include offering free consultations or advice initially. This can help build trust between the professional and the facility, leading to more referrals.
- Provide excellent service: Providing exceptional care and building rapport with patients can lead to positive word-of-mouth referrals. Happy patients are more likely to recommend an allied health professional to their friends and family, or to staff at aged care facilities.
- Offer educational sessions: Host educational sessions for aged care staff to demonstrate how your services can benefit their patients. This can help them better understand the value of your services and refer their patients to you for specialist care.
- Maintain a professional online presence: Having a professional website, social media presence and online reviews can all help you increase exposure and generate referrals. Facilities are more likely to refer patients to an allied health professional who has a reputable online presence.
Regardless of the setting, it is important for allied health professionals to collaborate with other members of the healthcare team. Collaborating with other healthcare providers who also work with aged care patients can help generate referrals from other sources. Building relationships with other professionals can also facilitate a more integrated approach to patient care, leading to better outcomes for patients.
The Palliative Care Needs Round Checklist (399kb pdf) may assist the healthcare team to discuss a patient's needs and guide practice. The checklist has been created for residential aged care, but could be a useful tool in other care settings.
Example Referral Form for chronic disease allied health services under Medicare..