Occupational Breakthroughs: Hydrotherapy & Cross-Training

For this run of posts, we’ll be taking turns to discuss examples of occupational work with a patient that has led to a personal breakthrough, or personal validation for our roles. It’s often assumed that doctors and healthcare professionals alike live contented lives because all of their work is funnelled towards a positive goal, ie. the betterment of others’ lives. However, in reality, working in the healthcare system can often be more frustrating than satisfying.

We all work with human beings on a daily basis, both inside the confidentiality of our patient relationships and in the public sphere with our staff. As all of us have come to realise, working with human beings requires great patience and, sometimes, in order to take three painstaking steps forward, it’s also necessary to take a couple backward too.

As the summer comes to end, we’ve taken the time to reflect over the last few months and discuss our ‘big wins’ and how they are propelling us through into the more difficult autumn months:

Initial consultations

The benefits of hydrotherapy for elderly people suffering with musculoskeletal problems is now well documented, however persuading an individual patient of the benefits can often be a laborious process. My recent success in persuading a group of elderly patients to take part in group hydrotherapy sessions is currently the win that is keeping me going. In any given day in my job, you may see a number of elderly people complaining of the same symptoms, it’s a sobering look into the future, as many of these conditions simply can’t be avoided as we grow older.

Working with elderly people can often be a real test of patience. These are people who are often resistant to change and stubborn to the point of rudeness. They have embedded habits, as we all do, that have been solidified over decades and huge defence mechanisms in place to protect these patterns of behaviour being broken. For these reasons, finding a way to suggest a new activity, in a foreign place to some elderly people can be a difficult challenge.

Introducing the environment

After discussions with my fellow consultants, we agreed on a plan, in conjunction with the local leisure centre, to make use of their hydrotherapy pools and create a new social community group with the intention of bringing elderly people with similar musculoskeletal issues together. Our theory was that if we could gently nudge our respective patients into the hyrdrotherapy pool together that they would be:

a) less self-conscious of themselves, as they would be grouped with people of a similar age who are also facing the same health issues.

b) encouraged to exercise in a safe, social fashion that has been proven to aid people with similar conditions.

The leisure centre was just a short walk away from our surgery, which gave us a great opportunity to point out the ease with which they could combine their regular appointments with their exercise, and an agreement was made with the leisure centre to install more accessible pool fittings to the hydrotherapy spas, so that our elderly residents would feel safe getting in and out of the water.

After 6 months of running this group we’ve seen an uptick in patient improvement, not to mention qualitative data suggesting that the social activity is providing an added bonus to our patient lives – something which is incredibly satisfying to hear.