Physiotherapy launches online self referral service

The Western Isles Physiotherapy Department has extended the accessibility of its self referral service, by introducing an online self referral option.

The self referral service was introduced back in June 2013, with hard copy self referral forms available at Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway and in GP Practices in the Uists and Barra. The service has proved extremely popular, with 566 patients referring themselves to a physiotherapist directly over the last year, without having to see or be prompted by another healthcare practitioner.

There is indisputable evidence that self referral to physiotherapy results in high levels of client satisfaction, better client outcomes and lower levels of work absence.

NHS Western Isles Physiotherapy Manager Sheila Nicolson explains: “Through self referral, patients can access our service directly, rather than going through their GP. The patient completes a short self-assessment questionnaire, which is reviewed by a physiotherapist and, depending on their clinical need, and if appropriate, an appointment is allocated accordingly.”

Self referral forms are now available at and will continue to be available at the entrance to the Western Isles Hospital, Stornoway, with a secure post box available to insert the referrals into once completed. Referral forms will also be available in GP Practices in the Uists and Barra. Members of the public can submit self referral forms at any time.

Sheila added: “Once we receive the form (which we request to be filled out as fully and accurately as possible), we will triage the information and place the referral on the appropriate waiting list - if we think physiotherapy can help. Only referrals assessed to be clinically appropriate will be accepted.”

The self referral approach has a strong evidence base. Pilots in Scotland and later in England found that self referral has a range of benefits for both patients and healthcare providers. Self referral reduces the need for healthcare interventions such as x-rays and prescribing, and for referrals to orthopaedic specialists.

It also lowers rates of sickness absence, and motivates patients to manage their own health.

According to the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, self referral is popular with patients. It is a patient-centred approach that increases ease of use, convenience, portability, patient influence, choice, engagement and involvement in care, and promotes self-management. The pilots showed that people who self refer to physiotherapy take fewer days off work and are about half as likely to be off work for one month, compared with those referred to physiotherapy by a GP.