This is a big topic amongst a lot of my families and within the therapy community in general. It’s a conversation I would say I have at least twice a month with a family, another physiotherapist or another therapist from a different discipline:
Can I use private therapy services even if I’m getting treatment through the public system? Why would I see a private therapist if I’m being seen in the public setting? Should I see one vs the other?
My answer is: do BOTH!
I encourage all of my families to call their local children’s treatment centre (in our area, you can get in touch with either KidsAbility or Thames Valley Children’s Treatment Centre) and put in a referral for services. Parents can self-refer or a medical doctor/specialist can refer on behalf of a family. This is a vital resource that can help get access to a variety of services, including therapy and, in the long term, planning transition to school.
The most important thing is to get the referral in early! Some treatment centres only provide services until school age, at which time care is transferred into the school system. As well, given the number of children requiring services, wait times for assessment and treatment can be lengthy. The sooner you put in your referral, the better!
So, what is the role of the private therapist?
Treatment in the public system looks different for different families. For some families it’s more consultation based – once every month, or six weeks to provide suggestions for exercises at home, providing equipment to increase a child’s function or ease of caregiving. For other families, it may be blocks of treatment 2-3 times a year to work on specific goals.
This is where a private therapist comes in! I have a number of families I have seen while they are waiting for public services and, in some instances, we are able to achieve their goals before they get their assessment. For other families, a private therapist can provide more frequent, hands on treatment to supplement public services they may be receiving.
However, there are some guidelines we need to follow – the College of Physiotherapists of Ontario has a standard of care that lays out the expectations for a physiotherapist who is treating a client who is receiving care from another health care provider (including a physiotherapist). The key is communication between the client/family and the other treating therapist. We need to make sure the treatments are compatible, discuss how the therapists are dividing treatment and that there is nothing that interferes with the delivery of safe, quality care.
At the end of the day, I feel like the more help a child can get to accomplish their maximum potential, the better! If a family can afford private physiotherapy (through benefits, bursaries or private pay) I think it can be a wonderful addition to public services.