Academic journal article Australian Health Review

Allied, Scientific and Complementary Health Professionals: A New Model for Australian Allied Health

Academic journal article Australian Health Review

Allied, Scientific and Complementary Health Professionals: A New Model for Australian Allied Health

Article excerpt


There is no standard or agreed definition of "allied health" nationally or internationally. This paper reviews existing definitions of allied health, and considers aspects of allied health services and service delivery in order to produce a new model of allied health that will be flexible in a changing health service delivery workforce. We propose a comprehensive model of allied, scientific and complementary (ASC) health professionals. This model recognises tasks, training, organisation, health sectors and professional regulation. It incorporates traditional and new services which are congruent with allied health foci, allegiances, responsibilities and directions. Use of this model will allow individual organisations to describe their ASC health workforce, and plan for recruitment, staff training and remuneration.

Aust Health Rev 2009: 33(1): 27-37

THERE IS NO STANDARD or agreed definition of "allied health" in the national or international literature. The most common approach has been to group allied health professions, by name, into a loose collective, which is defined only by exclusion (not being medical or nursing/midwifery). There has been ongoing debate about what allied health services do, who their customers are, how they measure their effectiveness, and how they integrate under one allied health collective banner. Boyce1 identified relationships between allied health professions as being the core link which sets them apart from medicine and nursing. She noted that this "alliance" reflects not only interdiscipline relationships in terms of customers and activities, but also relationships with the communities they serve. This model of integrated service intent and delivery would appear to be an appropriate framework from which to mount discussions about new nomenclature.

Internationally, definitional approaches range from simply listing health disciplines that are not medicine or nursing, to collating and classifying different service types. The listing approach reflects an historical perspective, such as the National Health Service (NHS) Scotland report2 in 2002, which listed a range of professions under the allied health umbrella: "arts therapists, podiatrists, dietitians, occupational therapists, orthoptists, physiotherapists, prosthetists and orthotists, diagnostic radiographers, therapeutic radiographers, speech and language therapists", (pp. 14, 15). More recently, work-task-based classifications have been used in the United States and the United Kingdom to define allied health. The United States Association of Schools of Allied Health Professionals (ASAHP)3 defined allied health as, ". . . professionals [being] involved with the delivery of health or related services pertaining to the identification, evaluation and prevention of diseases and disorders; dietary and nutrition services; rehabilitation and health systems management, among others . . .". The NHS Scotland2 classified allied health more broadly by using classifications such as "scientific, technical and therapy workers" (p. 1) and took a more holistic view of the allied health role in health care, stating that,

allied health professionals are critical to people's ongoing assessment, treatment and rehabilitation throughout their illness episodes. They support people of all ages in their recovery, helping them to return to work and to participate in sport or education. They enable children and adults to make the most of their skills and abilities and to develop and maintain healthy lifestyles. And they provide specialist diagnostic assessment and treatment services.2 (p. 7)

In Australia, two recent reviews have been undertaken that have raised the importance of understanding why allied health services are linked, and how this link can be explored in a manner which supports industry growth and broad recognition by other health providers, and consumers. The first review was undertaken in 2004 by the national group Services for Australian Rural and Remote Allied Health (SARRAH). …

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