“Digital physios, data geeks and curious clinicians!”

Faculty Fellow Euan McComiskie is UK Health Informatics Lead for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy and has been working within physiotherapy in Scotland for over a decade. In this article, Euan discusses the growing importance of informatics within physiotherapy across the UK and the steps he and the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy are taking to ensure practitioners are appropriately guided and educated within the growing digital health and care landscape.

“How does a physiotherapist get involved in informatics?”, is a question I’m often asked and the honest answer in my case is, “Accidentally!”.

I had always been interested in technology, but my introduction to informatics was attending the NHS Lothian AHP Informatics Group, as a departmental representative, back in 2011 or 2012. I was a Band 5 Physiotherapist at the time, and since then I’ve found myself as the AHP Informatics Lead in NHS Lothian, AHP eHealth Advisor at NHS National Services Scotland (NSS), and now Health Informatics Lead for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP); a great adventure of learning, experiences and new people.

Physiotherapists have a unique set of skills in the analysis and evaluation of human movement, so it is not too far-fetched to transfer those skills to the analysis and evaluation of data, systems, devices etc. to make a physiotherapist informatician.

“Collecting, using and sharing data is as much part of being a clinician as assessment and diagnosis. There are a number of physiotherapists further engaging with informatics and we expect them to lead the way for the rest of the profession”

Karen Middleton, CEO, CSP

We now have a group of physiotherapists all involved in some aspect of informatics across the whole UK. We met for the first time at CSP HQ on February 5th 2019, and the buzz was contagious. We all know that we live in a digital society, so the public and professional awareness of technology is better than it has been in the past, as is the knowledge and skill level in the profession. Therefore, the perennial challenges experienced by some of the earlier physiotherapy informatics pioneers are still alive today, but the chance to make a difference is as great as it has ever been with continued support from Karen Middleton, CEO of the CSP.

The inaugural meeting highlighted that there are other physiotherapists willing to take opportunities to grow their knowledge, skills and experience in informatics, so it’s the perfect time to strike! Watch this space for our plans to develop the group and give ourselves individual learning opportunities, then share them with other physiotherapists to improve their informatics knowledge, skills and experience in the profession, and demonstrate to others how physiotherapists can embrace technology to deliver world-leading services.

The current picture of informatics in physiotherapy is the triangle shown above. We want the group to help move everyone in the profession to at least the bottom of Level 2, then support those who want to know more and advance through Level 2, and offer learning opportunities (including looking outwith the profession) to get those interested up to Level 1. There aren’t many in there at the moment and we’d love some more company!

I’ve been lucky to have some of the opportunities I’ve had, but it’s taken a bit of courage to make the most of them. I’ve not done it alone and have to give thanks to a few who have made the journey easier. Brian Brockie, Liz Mitchell, Margaret Hastings, Lesley Holdsworth (Fellow of the FCI), Mike Folan (Fellow of the FCI) and Sarah Judge immediately come to mind, as physiotherapy informatics pioneers in their own right, supported as ever by the excellent staff at the CSP. So, I’m definitely not the first physio to be involved in informatics and I will definitely not be the last.

A number of informatics challenges have arisen for all professions, including physiotherapists, through recent publications in England (Long Term Plan, Topol Review) and in Scotland (Digital Health Strategy), with ongoing work in Wales and Northern Ireland providing even more opportunities. We hope that, with more physiotherapists informed, engaged and enabled by informatics, we can meet these challenges to grow the profession and to continue to provide world-leading health and social care on the shoestring budgets we have at the minute. It’s going to be tough, but it’s going to be a hell of a ride and I can’t wait to see how the Faculty of Clinical Informatics can help steer the way!

Euan McComiskie
Health Informatics Lead (CSP) and Fellow of the Faculty of Clinical Informatics