Intervention 2

Partnering for Success

Intervention 2

This intervention aimed to evaluate the feasibility, acceptability and usefulness of enhancing current partnerships between people with lived experience of spinal cord injury and allied health clinicians in the rehab setting.

Building partnerships between allied health clinicians and people with lived experience of a spinal cord injury

Our exploration of the problem found that young men living with a spinal cord injury expressed the need for more examples of people living with the same injury in the rehabilitation setting. They also reported that it can be difficult to relate to able-bodied professionals who are trying to model skills or provide support. This suggests a barrier related to social influences and beliefs about capabilities. Behaviour change theory suggests that this could be addressed through modelling - a process which involves individuals observing and imitating the behaviour of others as a way to learn and adopt new behaviours.

There is a growing understanding and appreciation of the value of connecting patients in spinal cord injury rehabilitation with the lived experience of those living with the same injury in the community who have resumed social roles and can share skills, knowledge, and experience. 

Austin Health and the Victorian Spinal Cord Service have a well-established relationship with AQA Victoria, underpinned by a formal agreement to enable peer mentor staff and volunteers to contribute to various components of a patient’s rehabilitation experience, including attending therapy sessions with allied health clinicians to provide support and perspective to newly injured individuals. 

While there is anecdotal evidence that this does make a difference to newly injured individuals and clinical staff, current practice is ad-hoc and often reliant on personal connections between select clinicians and available peers. 

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What the intervention involved

The purpose of this intervention was to shift these partnerships beyond personal relationships and increase the availability of peer coaches to the broader allied health team to formally evaluate this approach. 

We paired allied health clinicians (physiotherapists and occupational therapists) with peer coaches. These peer coaches had 5 years of lived experience with a spinal cord injury, were currently working as peer support workers with Austin Health or AQA, and have undertaken ‘train the trainer’ programs. These allied health clinicians and peer coaches then co-facilitated therapy sessions to explore how they could improve the experience of newly injured young men. 

Furthermore, a behavioural reflection tool was designed to strengthen this partnership and provide an opportunity for reflection, enabling each member of the partnership to think about how they can work together to provide the most value to newly injured individuals, with the aim of iteratively improving practice over time. 

What did we find?

The partnership approach was well-received by allied health clinicians, peer coaches, and patients

  • Allied health clinicians and peer coaches appreciated the structure that was given to the previously ad-hoc involvement.
  • Peer coaches liked being part of a team and found the role rewarding.
  • This partnership was described as equal and respectful.

Peer coaches filled a gap in allied health expertise

Allied health clinicians acknowledged their limitations in their ability to provide advice and demonstrate skills to newly injured young men. Peer coaches helped fill the gap in allied health expertise and enhanced the real-world applicability of therapy sessions.

  • Some allied health clinicians credited this approach with accelerating patient learning
  • This type of co-facilitation led to increased engagement and motivation amongst patients

Co-facilitated sessions should be standard practice

Participants emphasised that co-facilitating sessions with  peer coaches should be standard practice across the rehabilitation setting - including with social workers, dieticians, leisure specialists, psychologists and nurses.

“I thought it was a great trial and I do hope the data or the research that comes from it supports similar programs being enacted in the future because I just think it’s really beneficial for us, but also, more importantly, the patients in the service we provide” - Allied health clinician

Next steps

Future efforts should involve exploring the feasibility of this approach with different disciplines within the rehabilitation setting. Further evaluation of this partnership approach from the patient perspective would also be of value. 

We welcome interest and enquiries from those who would like to continue to build on this work with us. 

Contact us for collaboration and partnership opportunities.