Western Researcher Traveling Across Canada to Better Understand Mobility
Dr. David Walton, an Associate Professor with the School of Physical Therapy at Western University, is preparing to head off on a cross-Canada road trip intended to collect information on how physiotherapists and their patients think about mobility and how the delivery of care for mobility problems differs across the provinces. “Physiotherapists are considered leaders in the management of mobility problems, but the concept of mobility very likely holds different meaning for the maritime fisherman, the northern BC indigenous leader, and the downtown Toronto bike messenger” says Walton. “The Physio Moves Canada project is the signature project of my sabbatical leave, and I really wanted to do something that was different than what I normally do but also very impactful.”
Officially kicking off at the end of June, the genesis of the idea for this ethnographic research project began a year ago, with the initial intention simply to reconnect with the clinical community. “I consider myself a clinical researcher” says Walton, “but I’m also acutely aware that despite a 10-year clinical career, since having moved full time into academia I’m getting farther and farther from the realities of front-line daily practice.” He reached out to the Canadian Physiotherapy Association, the national professional association representing over 13,000 physiotherapists in Canada, and they loved the idea immediately. “From there it rounded into a fully-fledged qualitative research project that is intended to highlight the diversity and the similarities in the ways physiotherapists are currently optimizing mobility for their patients across this geographically and culturally-diverse country.”
Walton and his research team, including respected qualitative researcher and fellow Western Faculty of Health Sciences member Dr. Debbie Rudman and the study coordinator (and his wife and fellow physiotherapist) Amanda Walton performed a country-wide search for clinical sites that are harnessing unique or innovative strategies to improve access, engagement and/or outcomes for their patients. They have identified 26 such sites (from over 70 responses to their request for submissions), 21 of which will be visited over a 49-day roadtrip spanning the country from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Whitehorse, Yukon Territories, with at least one site in every province. An additional 5 sites in southern Ontario will be visited after his return when he can use Western as a home base for one- or two-day trips. The sites represent a wide diversity of practice settings and populations, from an historic cottage-style hospital in Gros Morne National Park, Newfoundland, to an advanced Virtual Reality-based rehabilitation centre at the Ottawa General Hospital. “Not surprisingly, physiotherapists in Canada are a tremendously innovative group, many of which are pushing the boundaries of physiotherapy into its next evolution” says Walton, “and innovation is not just occurring in major centres; we’ll be visiting a group of clinicians in Whitehorse who have provided iPads to several of the remote indigenous villages they service so that they can remain connected with their patients in between their regular monthly visits.”
A secondary purpose of the project will be to hold a series of focus groups with clinicians in many of the cities and towns through which they’ll be passing in order to capture their perspectives on the future of physiotherapy, including both threats and opportunities that they see coming down the road. “This part of the project is borne from a firm belief that it’s the front line clinician, the ones who are in the trenches day in and day out who are stationed at the best vantage point to see both threats to current practice, and opportunities for growth on the horizon.” By engaging clinicians in this way, Walton also hopes he’ll hear about clinicians’ priorities for research that should be done now to ensure the profession is prepared for the future, and even recommendations for revising current training programs so that graduates of today are prepared for the practice of tomorrow. “Truth be told, if you were to pluck Dave Walton from his physiotherapy training program in 1997 and plop him into a current program in 2017, he probably wouldn’t see a whole lot of difference in terms of the content. Yet the world has clearly advanced so perhaps it’s time that physiotherapy takes a long hard look in the mirror and decides what it wants to become over the next 10-15 years”. This trip is not only planned to coincide with Canada’s 150th anniversary of confederation, but also the upcoming Physio 2020 initiative which is currently being planned to celebrate the 100th anniversary of physiotherapy in Canada. By collecting rich, firsthand information on the current state of physiotherapy in Canada, innovators and trendsetters that are pushing it forward, and its anticipate future state, Walton and his colleagues hope to arm clinicians, educators and researchers with the best possible vision of what physiotherapy can become and what needs to happen now to make sure it gets there.