Understanding the role of allied health assistants in your therapy

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Allied health assistants work with allied health professionals to deliver services to people with disability in a wide range of settings.

Key points:

  • You might come across allied health assistants at home, in a clinic setting or in hospital
  • Assistants may work with more than one professional and across different fields
  • There’s more to allied health assistants than just following around an allied health professional but they are considered under-utilised by NDIS participants

Understanding what tasks they perform and when they might be able to help you can strengthen the network of supports you receive.

Using more allied health assistants for basic disability support also strengthens the allied health workforce because it means professionals can spend more time giving complicated supports.

The role

Usually holding a TAFE or Registered Training Organisation qualification, such as a Certificate III or IV in Allied Health Assistance, allied health assistants can do many different tasks in clinics, hospitals, in the community and in your home.

They work under the direction of a more highly qualified allied health professional, such as a physiotherapist, podiatrist, dietitian, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, nurse or doctor.

They can work under more than one professional at a time, depending on which professionals are part of the provider they work for, and can have specialisations in a particular area of allied health.

Allied health assistants may also be called therapy aides if they work under a therapist.

The tasks involved in the allied health assistant role include:

  • Putting together patient histories
  • Using equipment and technology in a clinic
  • Changing dressings on wounds
  • Conducting follow-up visits with clients after treatment
  • Monitoring and reporting changes in a client
  • Coordinating health programs
  • Administrative tasks like managing appointments
  • Providing emotional support to a client or their family during therapy
  • Supporting a professional to deliver a group session

While assistants aren’t qualified to give a diagnosis or prescribe treatments, they may create easy-to-follow therapy treatment plans based on a professional’s notes, diagnosis and prescribed treatment.

Programs aimed at strengthening services in rural areas with less access to allied health workers have also used assistants to take on some of the initial basic assessments which a professional would usually do so that the professional has time to see other clients who require more complex assessments or treatments.

Allied health assistants and the NDIS

Services provided by allied health assistants can be claimed under National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) funding.

Sometimes seeing a professional is not necessary, so using assistants for basic support can save you money as they cost less than professionals.

In rural and remote areas where there are less professionals available, assistants can help to make sure people are still getting allied health support.

They have also been shown to improve outcomes for people leaving hospital by providing them with support after they get home.

However, the number of people using allied health assistants with the NDIS is not as high as the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) would like it to be, because of a few reasons.

Allied health professionals have a legal responsibility for how their assistants act. This can make it difficult for professionals to send assistants out on their own because if something goes wrong it will be the professional’s fault.

There have also been issues around how NDIS funding is claimed for assistants and sometimes the allied health service has not been paid enough.

It is important that you and your support coordinator understand these issues and don’t put too much pressure on your allied health professional to get an assistant to support you.

With these factors in mind, the pros and cons of having an allied health assistant support you are outlined below.

The benefits of an allied health assistant include:

  • The cost of an assistant is less than the cost of a professional so they can help you to save money if they can support you without the professional being there
  • The possibility of more support at home after illness or surgery
  • Continuing checks on how your treatment plan is going, in the case that your allied health professional doesn’t have the time to do the checks themselves
  • The assistant may have more time to dedicate to understanding your history and circumstances than a professional who is in high demand
  • Using the skills of an assistant where possible allows a professional to spend more time where they are needed most, strengthening the allied health workforce

However, the challenges of using allied health assistants include:

  • They may not be required to have a formal qualification and may not have the experience you are looking for – the NDIA does not require an assistant to have formal qualifications but instead requires a professional to be sufficiently supervising them
  • Professionals may be reluctant to allow assistants to do tasks alone, as the professional’s insurance is required to cover the assistant and they can only delegate tasks that they know will be safe for the assistant to perform – a big responsibility
  • In some cases, NDIS funding and administration can be more complicated to manage if you get support from an assistant as well as a professional, as they have different rates
  • Assistants may be just as unavailable as professionals in your area if there is a shortage of workers across the sector

If you are considering how an allied health assistant may be able to help you have an open and positive conversation with the professionals who already support you about whether this approach to support will work.

What else do you want to know about allied health assistants? Tell us in the comments below.

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