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What Do the Different Allied Health Professionals Do?

Feb 23, 2023

We often get asked ‘What does a podiatrist actually do?’.  We also get confused with other professions such as physiotherapists.  So in this blog I thought it would be useful to give a quick guide to the allied health professions in England.  Quite often these professions do not work alone but work as part of multi-disciplinary teams, and there can be some cross over in what they do.

Within many of the professions there are also subdivisions where practitioners specialise even further.  However, I have kept this article to a general overview.  But when seeking out a private practitioner it is useful to bear in mind that you should go to someone who specialises within the discipline, in the area you are needing.  For example at our podiatry clinic we don’t specialise in wound care (e.g. extreme ulcerations) so although the podiatrists are trained in it at university, it is not their area of expertise, so we would advise patients to seek out a different clinic who do specialise in it.

I will begin the blog with what I know best, podiatry.

Podiatrists

Podiatry is all about the lower limb.  Both relating to skin, nails and wounds i.e. external issues and internal issues i.e. joints, muscles and nerves of the lower limb (includes feet, ankles, knees and sometimes hips).

The primary aim is to keep people pain free and able to live an active life.  In their day-to-day work podiatrists assess, diagnose, evaluate, prevent and manage both chronic and acute conditions.  Specialist areas within podiatry include MSK (musco-skeletal), wound care, surgery, diabetes, paediatrics, sports injury, arthritis, dermatology and vascular disease.

Prosthetists and orthotists

Prosthetists concentrate on working with patients who are missing a limb, whether that be from diabetes, trauma, infection, congenital loss or reduced vascularity.  They are highly trained in biomechanics and material science amongst other things, allowing them to design prosthetics that mimic the missing limb.  Their work is often vital in helping people to lead full and active lives when they are missing a limb.

Orthotists on the other hand correct issues of nerves, muscles and bones using a variety of devices.  Through creating orthoses they can help people to stay mobile, reduce chances of injury through e.g. falling, and prevent pain and also allow for ulcers to heal.

Paramedics

Paramedics are often among the first people that a patient sees when they are needing urgent care.  As a first port of call, paramedics will conduct detailed assessments and put in place initial treatment where necessary, across a whole range of areas from spinal injury management to defibrillating, to administering oxygen and intravenous drips.  They are able to assess quickly and remain calm in very pressurised environments.

Radiographers

Radiography can be split into two divisions, therapeutic and diagnostic.

Radiography is often essential for diagnosis of a range of conditions.  Diagnostic radiography is all about producing imagery to enable injury and disease to be diagnosed by seeing into the body.  They are also responsible for delivering reports related to the imagery.

Therapeutic radiography is the planning and delivery of radiotherapy to treat cancer.

Orthoptists

Orthoptists specialise in the eyes. They diagnose and treat eye conditions relating to movement and how the 2 eyes work together.  Eye issues that they work with are often a result of diabetes, hypertension, cancer, strokes or trauma.  They can also undertake further training to work in specialities that include glaucoma, cataract and macular degeneration.

Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapy is all about assessing and treating physical and psychosocial functional issues helping people to take part in their work, learning, socialising or other aspects of daily life.  They often link up with other disciplines due to the nature of issues that patients present with.

Speech and language therapists

Speech and language is often integral to our day to day lives and as the name implies these therapists are integral when helping with speech and language issues.  However, the specialty is also responsible for helping people with eating, drinking and swallowing issues.  They work with both children and adults.

Art, Drama and Music therapists.

Each area has its own therapy training and professional association, as they are separate disciplines.  Through the use of music, drama or art they help people to explore issues and also express themselves, so improving their wellbeing.

Dietitians

They give practical advice on food choices and what we should be eating on both an individual level but also a public health level.  On an individual level they assess, diagnose and treat issues relating to nutrition and diet.

Physiotherapists

Arguably the most well-known of the health professions.

Physiotherapists are involved with movement and rehabilitation, for example in cases of accident, illness, or disability.  As the area is so vast quite often physiotherapists specialise within the discipline eg paediatrics, women’s health etc

Osteopaths

Although not a member of the allied health professions federation osteopathy they are a growing discipline in the UK. Osteopaths treat non-invasively through predominantly hands on techniques.  They are highly skilled in manipulations and massage so allowing them to relieve pain and promote the body’s self-healing processes, relieving muscle tension, enhancing blood supply and increasing joint mobility.