Allied Health Assistants: 9 Rules to Optimise Your Workforce

Allied Health Assistants

‘The poor allied health assistants end up filling in for home care and it drives them mad and then they are being – they are used up – our valuable assistant resource is used up covering for home care instead of doing rehab.’

Beverly (Manager, Allied Health Assistants, Transition care team)

Allied Health Assistant roles could do and be so much more

Do you use allied health assistants in your organisation but know that you are probably not using them as effectively or efficiently as you could? You are not the only one!

Allied Health Assistants or AHAs are one of the fastest growing groups of health professionals in Australia and in the UK but many managers, Allied Health Professionals and AHAs themselves report, these roles could do and be so much more!

But sometimes these things happen…

Some things we know about Allied Health Assistant models of care are that:

  • Allied Health Professionals (APHs) often do not want to delegate appropriate tasks;
  • AHPs can feel threatened by Allied Health Assistants taking over their role; or
  • Allied Health Professionals don’t delegate tasks consistently.

Perhaps you are having to constantly re-define the battle ground of roles as a manager, Allied Health Assistant or Allied Health Professional?!

Too many times we have seen issues where Allied Health Professionals are almost too qualified or senior to be undertaking the tasks they are performing but lack the strategies to delegate appropriately or consistently to an AHA.

This can lead to lack of job satisfaction and career opportunities for Allied Health Professionals and in turn lack of career opportunities for AHAs. Ultimately this ends in retention issues for your organisation.

But the good news is that there are ways you can address these problems!

9 steps to improve efficiency

We have observed over many years of research and working with people like you that the following steps will help you to alleviate some of these issues and allow you to focus on optimising your assistant and Allied Health Professional workforce.

  1. Provide your assistant with lots of joint learning opportunities, surround them with a team rich in skills and have your qualified staff contribute to their training – Your assistant is only as skilled as the team who trains & surrounds them! To achieve this however an assistant ideally needs to work in a team with a broad skill mix, have good team working relationships, be trained by the qualified staff within the team they work in and ideally also be located with the team. When qualified team members are involved in training assistants, they are more likely to delegate to them consistently.
  2. Ensure all clients are assessed in a timely manner by a qualified practitioner – this enables assistants to feel confident to deliver a risk-free and safe intervention to clients.
  3. Establish clear communication structures between qualified and assistant staff – this enables assistants to voice concerns or provide feedback about a client’s progress. We have found that this is an essential mechanism for good client outcomes.
  4. Where possible have all team members working from a common base to promote communication and skill sharing: Having a common team location enables informal, daily client feedback and discussion as well as professional advice and information supervision. Where this isn’t geographically or physically possible, try to facilitate team interaction using other online means.
  5. Remove barriers that prevent staff working to their full scope of practice: staff who are deemed competent to carry out a task should be enabled to do this as much as possible. This holds true for both assistants and Allied Health Professionals. In fact, the more you encourage AHPs to work to full (or expanded) scope of practice, the more opportunity there is for the assistant staff to work to their full scope of practice (and for career progression). A common barrier to this is inconsistent staffing, culture and historical practices in the organisation.
  6. Allow sufficient time for assistant-client interaction: This enables therapeutic relationships to develop. This is particularly important where AHPs play a greater role in assessment and diagnosis and assistants in therapy provision.
  7. Ensure an appropriate ratio of assistant to qualified staff: the employment of assistants to increase service capacity needs to be balanced against sufficient qualified staff with the time and skills to deliver training and supervision. Targeting deployment of Allied Health Assistants around specific patient characteristics will also increase workforce efficiency. This is not a one size fits all formula. Include qualified AHPs in discussions around what this should look like and consider using a tool like the Therapy Outcome Measures to identify patient characteristics that are best matched for AHA input.
  8. Appropriately resource the role for training and supervision: While many Allied Health Assistants have a vocational qualification, their level of skill and capability will ultimately come from on the job training (see point 1 and 7). Allied Health Assistants need to be trained, supervised, managed, provided continuing professional development and supported. This needs to be appropriately resourced.
  9. Avoid role ambiguity: Be clear with which roles are delegated to whom and keep that consistent. Involve your whole team in setting up a delegation framework. Tools like the Calderdale Framework are designed to facilitate this.

Conclusion

For Beverly (our assistant at the beginning) and the team she belonged to, clearly there were issues around working to full scope of practice and role ambiguity. Better staffing consistency and a delegation framework may have helped this team to be more efficient and ultimately, with better use of staffing resources, the service could have helped more patients.

Simply employing an Allied Health Assistant does not automatically expand your service or business or release an Allied Health Professional to undertake advanced scope role. It takes planning and careful consideration. Try applying these principles to your Allied Health Assistant workforce models and see how you measure up! What are you going to tackle first?!

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