Innovative Allied Health

Life Care

LifeCare is Australia’s largest provider of health, physiotherapy and sports medicine services with over 249 allied health professionals and thirty-eight practices throughout New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia.

The company offers the highest standard of services with an integrated and multidisciplinary approach to health management. It is that approach that has allowed it to flourish in the niche market for which it is known. The company is progressing and expanding into different trends that will allow it to maintain its status as one of Australia’s best known sports medicine providers. Business in Focus spoke with General Manager Michael Kenihan of LifeCare in Victoria to gain insight as to what it takes to remain relevant in a very competitive physiotherapy and sports medicine market.

The greater part of what LifeCare does is help injured active sporting people through its multidisciplinary clinics, also known as sports medicine centres. The company assists patients in healing work injuries or motor vehicle injuries through physiotherapy and such activities as Pilates. “Most of our Pilates studios were located as part of a sports medicine practice, but now those facilities are being located independently as standalone facilities which also include musculoskeletal rehabilitation,” explains Michael.

Over the last three years, LifeCare has started three new Pilates studios, each facilitated by an online booking and payment service. “Pilates is really taking off and growing in Australia, particularly class based exercise which is a big change,” Michael shares. Pilates used to be done one-on-one, but it is now increasingly class-based. However, the individual attention is still there as there are typically only four people in each hour long class.

Due to high demand, each Pilates centre has three such groups operating at any given time with three instructors for every twelve people. It all starts with a pre-exercise assessment to set up the program. This program is supervised by a physiotherapist and modified according to individual needs. “This is a developing market,” says Michael. “I think the advent of online booking software means that there is less need for administrative staff, so you can actually take on external facilities and have them on an appointment basis.”

Two new clinics opened up in Melbourne earlier this year. In Western Australia, LifeCare has also opened up a home care service which sees physiotherapists visit patients in their own homes. Hospitals have had an increased push to get people home more quickly in order to free up hospital beds and the need for home care is increasing as a result.

A multidisciplinary clinic usually houses five or more disciplines such as sports physicians, physiotherapists, massage therapists, podiatrists, dieticians or psychologists; they all operate together in a single clinic environment. “For patients, it is likened to a one stop shop arrangement whereby they can come and see a doctor and then have their rehabilitation treatment with physio, podiatry and a dietician, for example. It really benefits the patient because of the integrated care.” With so many disciplines on site, communication between them only serves to speed up diagnosis and treatment.

Michael sees the trend increasing toward offering multiple services in one location. “Research done by the physiotherapy association says that it is going to be an increasing trend, whereas at the moment there are only a handful of those clinics around the country. LifeCare happens to operate five of these clinics in Melbourne alone, which is the highest concentration of those sorts of practices.” Melbourne is considered to be the sports capital of Australia with a high level of participation and elite sporting teams in the city. Only two other health care groups operate multidisciplinary clinics in Melbourne.

Multidisciplinary clinics are complex practices to operate which is likely one reason that more outfits have not endeavoured to start them up. Due to the different disciplines, a larger facility is needed, amounting to a greater start-up expense. One also needs to have more business acumen to run such an operation with knowledge of how to manage the disciplines under one roof.

“We go to the various colleges such as the College of Sports Physicians,” says Michael. “We have a close liaison with the colleges and associations. A lot of the people we acquire come from word of mouth actually, because we have quite a good reputation for ongoing mentoring and education – which is important. You need to provide those sorts of things in a multidisciplinary environment. There is a lot of follow-up with clients and a lot of teaching and mentoring of clinicians.”

All over the world, the rise of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease calls for more therapists to treat these people. Chronic disease management is usually a team approach and multidisciplinary clinics are better served to be able to deal with this. For example, overweight patients with arthritic problems in their joints will have access to a dietician and physiotherapist working together. People with diabetes often have foot problems and can have access to both dieticians and podiatrists at a single location. Generally speaking, those with chronic disease need physical activity and all of the different disciplines can be involved. LifeCare also has specialty exercise classes of up to ten people to cater to the needs of seniors.

“Many of those people are in a chronic disease state, so they will pay to come along and be a part of a group class activity. They will use equipment that will help them with stretching and are trained under supervision. It is that sort of service that comes back to the idea of Pilates, but the over-sixties is another growing area.”

When asked where he sees things in the industry twenty years from now, Michael sees increasing growth of standalone class-based musculoskeletal Pilates studios as well as a greater number of multi-disciplines working together. There will likely be more exercise based clinicians working in this area. He also foresees clinics being involved in stem cell treatment with injectable biological treatments and LifeCare is planning for this presently. These injectables will consist of blood or protein rich plasma and other types of blood products, to be used as treatment for inflammation and injuries.

“New innovations are largely around the biological,” he says. “Initially, there will be stem cells that are harvested and put back in patients. These are called autologous products. I would take certain tissue from you and isolate the stem cells before reinjecting it in you.”

Michael believes that an increasing number of facilities will be involved in more complex assessments of patients using radiological technology as well as measurement technologies. With the increase in the numbers of people in a chronic disease state, there will be greater emphasis on finding more exercise based and dietary based solutions. “This means that the government will have to start focusing on more preventative health – screening people and proactively applying treatment programs rather than to wait for people to get sick. The future, twenty years from now, will be much more about identification of risk and then treatment of risk once it is identified.”

LifeCare is aptly named. It treats everyone in all walks of life from young children to the elderly. No more wasted time going from specialist to specialist and more home care make for a very prudent business plan as well as adding patient convenience. Indeed, the company is poised to succeed well into the future and to address all challenges that it might bring.

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December 19, 2018, 5:11 AM AEDT