Primary care occupational, physical, and respiratory therapy role adaptation in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic

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Brown, Cara L.
Chartrand, Louise
Vollebregt, Brontë
Kaur, Dayajyot
Crawford, Tory
Thille, Patricia
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Abstract Background Occupational, physical and respiratory therapists are relatively new to primary care settings, and thus their roles are still emerging. The COVID-19 pandemic was a time of abrupt changes in professional roles. Professional role adaptations are integral to the ability of health care teams to respond to day-to-day care delivery challenges, such as the current physician and nurse shortage, as well as disaster situations. This study explored the role adaptation of occupational, physical, and respiratory therapists in Canadian primary care settings throughout the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as barriers and facilitators to adaptation. Methods This longitudinal interpretative descriptive study purposively sampled primary care occupational, physical, and respiratory therapists from two Canadian provinces (Manitoba and Ontario). We asked participants to prepare at least 10 semi-structured audio-diary entries during a 12-week period (April – Oct 2020), followed by two semi-structured interviews (Dec 2020, Apr 2021). Questions focused on changes happening in their practice over time. Analysis was iterative, including developing a individual summaries and coding data using both inductive and pre-determined codes. We then entered an immersion/crystallization process to develop key themes related to role adaptation. Results We represent our findings with the metaphor of the game of Role Adaptation Snakes and Ladders (aka Chutes and Ladders). The pandemic was certainly not a game, but this metaphor represents the tension of being a pawn to circumstance while also being expected to take control of one’s professional and personal life during a disaster. The object of the game is to move through three phases of role adaptation, from Disorienting, through Coping and Waiting, to Adapting. In the Adapting phase, the therapists creatively found ways to provide vital services for the pandemic response. The therapists were influenced both negatively and positively (snakes and ladders) by their personal circumstances, and professional meso and macro contexts. Each therapist moved across the board in a unique trajectory and timeline based on these contexts. Conclusions Rehabilitation professionals, with adequate meso and macro system supports, can maximize their role on primary care teams by adapting their services to work to their full scope of practice.
BMC Primary Care. 2024 Jan 02;25(1):3