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Project Report - Circumpolar Special Issue: Human health at the ends of the earth

Development of a physiotherapy prioritization tool in the Baffin Region of Nunavut: a remote, under-serviced area in the Canadian Arctic

Submitted: 24 February 2010
Revised: 8 May 2010
Published: 18 June 2010

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Author(s) : Miller Mifflin T, Bzdell M.

Tracy Miller Mifflin

Citation: Miller Mifflin T, Bzdell M.  Development of a physiotherapy prioritization tool in the Baffin Region of Nunavut: a remote, under-serviced area in the Canadian Arctic. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2010; 10: 1466. Available: (Accessed 17 October 2017)


Context:  This article describes the development and evaluation of a tool to prioritize physiotherapy referrals in a remote, under-serviced region in Canada’s eastern Arctic.
The Baffin Region of Nunavut is home to approximately 16 000 people dispersed across 12 communities accessible only by air. Physiotherapists are based out of the capital city, but provide services to clients throughout the region. Physiotherapists in the Baffin Region are generalists, treating clients from across the lifespan and from all practice areas. The region is under-serviced with regard to physiotherapy, and long waitlists for service are maintained. No previous physiotherapy prioritization tool existed to manage the diverse caseload.
Issue:  Physiotherapists were dissatisfied with perceived inequities in service delivery among the different communities in the region, and between client types. In response, a tool was created to prioritize physiotherapy referrals based on urgency and need, regardless of client location. The prioritization tool was developed by combining the authors’ knowledge of the distinct and unique characteristics of the Baffin Region with background research. Three methods were used to collect background information: (1) a literature search; (2) a review of prioritization policies from other regions; and (3) interviews with physiotherapists working in similar remote areas in Canada. From the background research, common characteristics in prioritizing physiotherapy referrals as ‘high priority’ emerged. These were combined with the identified characteristics of the Baffin Region to create a tool that could prioritize physiotherapy referrals from multiple client types. The prioritization tool was then implemented and evaluated over a four-month period.
Lessons Learned:  Following the implementation of the prioritization tool, a greater percentage of scheduled physiotherapy appointments were devoted to high priority groups, and there was a greater amount of service delivered to clients from the remote communities. Physiotherapists subjectively reported improved job satisfaction knowing that clients over the entire region were being assessed in order of priority, and decreased job stress as a result of reduced therapist time spent triaging referrals. Unanticipated outcomes from using the prioritization tool included subjectively reported improved communication with other health professionals, and changes in physiotherapy service delivery methods in the Baffin Region. Using the prioritization tool prompted increased client travel to the capital city for urgent physiotherapy appointments, increased use of videoconferencing for follow-up physiotherapy appointments, and increased use of a consultative model to deliver physiotherapy services. The tool could be adapted for use by other rural or remote physiotherapists working with multiple client populations in under-serviced areas. The Baffin Region Physiotherapy Prioritization Tool provides an objective method for making triage decisions, and has improved the equity with which physiotherapy services are delivered across the region.

Key words:  Arctic, Canada, case management, medically underserved area, physiotherapy, rural health services, triage.

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