Animal physiotherapy

Summary

The Physiotherapy Board of Australia (the Board) publishes registration standards and guidelines on its website. These detail the obligations for initial and ongoing registration as a physiotherapist in Australia.

The Board also publishes frequently asked questions (FAQ) about registration renewal, recency of practice, continuing professional development and the use of protected titles. Practitioners should read these documents carefully. They are published on the Codes and guidelines section of the Board’s website.

The following additional FAQ answers common queries that practitioners might have about their obligations under the National Law1  with regards to title protections, registration standards and advertising requirements associated with animal practice.


1 The Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, as in force in each state and territory (the National Law).

The National Law determines the role and powers of the Board and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA). The National Law does not extend to practice on animals, only on human patient care. Practice on animals is not within the scope of the Board’s regulatory role in protecting the public.

Animal owners are not able to notify the Board about issues they may have about the treatment of an animal, as they would if the treatment had been provided to a person. However, if you treat animals, there are many other state and territory laws, including those about providing services to animals, that you must also meet.

Advice about the use of descriptors (such as ‘animal’), together with a protected title is provided in guidance on the AHPRA website. If the advertising is not about a regulated health service or advertises a service that does not involve human patient care, the advertising provisions in section 133 of the National Law do not apply.

However, as the term ‘animal physiotherapist’ could potentially confuse the public, if you use the term, you should take care to make it clear that while you are a registered physiotherapist, the Board does not regulate your practice on animals.

There is further information available on the AHPRA and Board website about advertising, including the use of protected titles.

If you are not registered with the Board, it is an offence under the National Law to use a protected title or claim to be a registered health practitioner when you are not.

‘Physiotherapist’ and ‘physical therapist’ are protected titles. This means that it is unlawful for someone to knowingly or recklessly take or use the titles ‘physiotherapist’ and ‘physical therapist’ or to claim to be registered with the Board (for example, by using the term ‘physio’) when they are not. Further information about offences under the National Law is published on the AHPRA website.

Use of the title or words ‘animal physiotherapist’ or ‘animal physio’ by a person who is not a registered physiotherapist may amount to a breach of the title protections under sections 113-119 of the National Law. However, context is important in determining whether a breach has occurred and would depend on whether use of the term may induce a belief that the person is registered under the National Law in the profession. 

An important role for the Board and AHPRA is ensuring that only people who are suitably qualified and competent are registered and, therefore, legally able to use the protected titles of ‘physiotherapist’ or ‘physical therapist’. Only those who continue to meet ongoing registration requirements, including a prescribed amount of recent practice and continuing professional development (CPD), can maintain registration.

If your practice is 100 per cent animal-based, you cannot maintain general registration unless you complete 150 hours of practice in the previous registration year, or 450 hours over the previous three years in practice involving humans. The definition of practice set by the Board is defined as:

‘Practice’ can be any role, whether paid or not, in which you use your skills and knowledge as a physiotherapist. Practice is not restricted to the provision of direct clinical care. It can include working in a direct non-clinical relationship with patients, working in management, administration, education research, advisory, regulatory or policy development roles, and any other roles that impact on the safe, effective delivery of physiotherapy services to the public.

If you wish to remain registered and practise on animals, whether as part of the normal course of your practice, on weekends, or without payment, you must:

  • Meet your professional obligations as a registered physiotherapist – including CPD, recent practice, and adhere to the Code of conduct.
  • Declare on renewal of registration annually that you meet the recent practice minimum requirements of 150 hours over the previous registration year, or 450 hours over the previous three years and the minimum CPD requirements of 20 hours over the past year, which relates to physiotherapy for humans. Know and adhere to laws in any state or territory in which you practise that restrict or prohibit the provision of health services to animals. Breaking the law may risk an investigation into your conduct and/or be considered as an issue that goes to your fitness for registration.
  • Even if you have formal qualifications relating to the treatment of animals, your obligations as a registered physiotherapist relate to humans, and not animals.
  • Ensure that your professional indemnity insurer knows and that you are covered.
  • Make sure that you do not give the impression that you are a registered veterinarian.

The level of your qualification or experience in animal practice does not change the scope of the National Law. The National Law and the Board’s regulatory framework relate to practice on people and treatment of animals is outside this scope.

You cannot count any practice on animals towards meeting the Board’s requirements for recency of practice.

The Board’s registration standards include the Recency of practice registration standard. This requires you to complete at least 150 hours of practice in the previous registration year, or 450 hours over three years. This practice must be completed practising with/on people. Practising on animals is not considered as practice for the purposes of meeting this standard.

The Board’s definition of ‘practice’ is intentionally broad. The National Law protects the use of titles rather than defining a practitioner’s scope of practice, as was sometimes the case before the start of the National Law in 2010. The following definition is published in all registration standards:

Practice means any role, whether remunerated or not, in which the individual uses their skills and knowledge as a practitioner in their regulated health profession. For the purposes of this code, practice is not restricted to the provision of direct clinical care. It also includes using professional knowledge in a direct non-clinical relationship with patients or clients, working in management, administration, education, research, advisory, regulatory or policy development roles and any other roles that have an impact on safe, effective delivery of health services in the health profession.

The Board cannot provide you with an answer as to whether your practice meets this definition. It is up to you to provide evidence if asked, either through audit or when a complaint has been made about you, that you are trained and competent to perform that practice.

The Board’s Code of Conduct provides the ethical and professional framework to which physiotherapists are professionally bound and may be held to account against.

 

The National Law is about the protection of the public. The definition of ‘the public’ does not extend to animals. Therefore, your CPD must relate to your practice on people and not on animals.

It is up to you to provide evidence that your CPD relates to your chosen scope of practice when practising with people. The Board does not endorse any individual CPD course or type of CPD. If you do any animal-related CPD and declare this in support of meeting the Board’s Continuing professional development registration standard, you would have to convince the Board (if you are audited or if a complaint has been made about you) that this CPD is relevant to practice on people.

There is no preferred form of documenting your practice so long as if asked, you can show what your practice involves.

You are due to renew your registration with the Board annually by 30 November which is when you are asked to declare whether you meet the required standards.

Look out for a reminder to renew from AHPRA when online renewal is open. You will get email reminders several times during the renewal period. You can use our online services to check that AHPRA has your current contact details. Be sure to check the national Register of practitioners to confirm your registration details.

As a physiotherapist in Australia, you must meet the Board’s registration standards when you renew your registration each year. These registration standards include criminal history, indemnity insurance arrangements (PII), recency of practice and continuing professional development (CPD).

The Board expects you to declare when you renew your registration that you have met the requirements set out in their registration standards.

Before making any declarations, you must read the Board’s requirements for renewal of registration, particularly recency of practice, CPD and PII arrangements.

Make sure you understand these requirements before making your declarations because you may be asked to give additional information in support of your application and/or they can be checked through an audit or complaint.

It doesn’t mean that you can’t renew your registration. It will mean that the Board will ask you for further information as part of your application. Your name will not be removed from the register while the Board considers your renewal application.

It is the same process you would follow to resume practice after a break (for whatever reason) and the Recency of practice registration standard, guideline and FAQ explain the requirements and provide further information.

You will be asked for information about what you used to do (when practising on/treating people), how long you’ve been away from practising on and/or treating people, and what you intend to do when you return to practising on and/or treating people.

There is no one way to return to practice. Each application is considered on its merits and what, if any, conditions are imposed on your registration (e.g. a period of supervised practice) will depend on your circumstances. For instance, if you used to practise clinically, had a break and then wanted to return to administrative or non-clinical practice, the risk of harm to the public is less than for a practitioner who proposed to go from doing administrative physiotherapy practice, had a break and then wanted to return to clinical practice.

 
 
 
Page reviewed 17/04/2019