NHS Highland has become the first area in Scotland to introduce an online product offering faster access to GP physiotherapy services. 

The launch comes after funding was secured for a one-year trial of a digital musculoskeletal (MSK) support product, Phio, across all general practices in the Highland HSCP area. 

Phio is a clinically supported, free-to-use, interactive digital product that quickly and accurately signposts people to the right care pathway to support their MSK condition.  

It can also provide a self-management programme with in-app clinical support from a qualified physiotherapist for those patients who are assessed as suitable. 

The launch of Phio – provided by Lancashire-based tech startup EQL – will improve access to physiotherapy services within general practice, reduce appointment waiting times, help support GP workload and enhance the existing First Contact Physiotherapy (FCP) service capacity. 

As part of the trial, Phio is available to everyone across Highland aged 16 or over, registered to a GP practice, with an MSK condition. It is accessible 24 hours a day on any device with internet connection.

Jude Arnaud, FCP clinical lead, said: “I am really pleased with the launch of this digital physiotherapy support product within General Practice. We believe it’s important to offer patients immediate support when they feel like they need it. Phio will strengthen the FCP service by giving patients faster, easy access to MSK physiotherapy care, information and advice, to ensure they get the right care at the right time.”  

Fiona Ward, FCP Clinical Lead added “We want to stress though that the existing FCP service is staying the same and that using Phio is entirely the patient’s choice. It’s just another option patients can use to support their MSK condition.”

Overseen by Phio’s physiotherapists, Phio directs users through a clinical digital assessment, signposting them to the appropriate care. This can be urgent care for those presenting with ‘red flag’ symptoms, face-to-face care with a GP or FCP, or if clinically suitable, a tailored exercise programme with Phio’s in-app clinical support and remote management. Progress on the programme is continually supported and monitored by Phio’s team of specialist MSK physiotherapists.  

Chris Williams, GP in Grantown-on-Spey Medical Practice and member of the NHS Highland GP Subcommittee, said: “Phio enables patient access to physiotherapy healthcare services from a digital device. Individuals with MSK issues will be able to use Phio to access relevant information and guidance. This may offer timely input to prevent their condition from getting worse. Patients using this new route will be asked to give information about their condition. The clinical data collected through Phio’s consultation is assessed by a qualified physiotherapist and can help patients get the right care, treatment, and advice at the right time.”