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Interview with the Finnish Student Health Service

News | 7 January 2021

We interviewed Heidi Riska, lead physiotherapist at the Finnish Student Health Service (FSHS), regarding the provision of physiotherapy to students. 

In Finland, FSHS is responsible for the health care of all university students, including the provision of physiotherapy. By the turn of the year, the organization will provide services to up to 270,000 students. 

Heidi's responsibility at FSHS is, among other things, to develop and harmonize physiotherapy practices. Procedures relating to the use of Physiotools have also been the subject of development. 

Why do students come for physiotherapy? 

Heidi has noticed two clear groups of clients among students: those who move too little and those who move too much. Ailments caused by too little exercise are often back and neck related. Also, when students initially start exercising and work their bodies too hard, they may develop various problems. 

Students have access to a physiotherapy appointment whenever needed. However, long treatment periods are not given, and the service does not include rehabilitation of long-term illnesses. Typically, a student visits the clinic a couple of times. 

According to Heidi, today’s visible trends are mental health challenges and stress, which are also reflected in the requests for physiotherapy. Studying is demanding and in addition to that, there are many other challenges to be faced in life. Heidi says, “Depression and anxiety are reflected in the health of the body and studies have shown that a depressed or anxious person has more musculoskeletal problems.”  

How are students motivated to exercise? 

Having the motivation to exercise is important for recovery and the physiotherapist plays an essential role in this. “A physiotherapist needs to sell the importance of exercising to a student”, says Heidi, “Students often have their own preconceptions about how to solve the problem, and it is by no means always the case that the answer starts with exercise. The student may have thought in advance that a physiotherapist would find a quick fix to improve the ailment.” 

They have found that it is important to give a personalized exercise programs to a student. "I have found that if a personalized exercise program is not given, adherence to it is weaker. If, for example, we recommend that a student visits our clinic to watch an exercise video, then it is not always motivating. If, on the other hand, an exercise program is personally designed for that particular student, it has been shown to be more motivating,” says Heidi. 

Heidi talked about the benefits of Physiotools’ extensive exercise library and the opportunity to find exercises relating to a student’s hobby. “I like being able to give students exercises relating to their hobbies. For example, if a student practises yoga, pilates or uses a kettlebell, then I can use Physiotools to find appropriate exercises for them”. 

Some students are motivated by following their own exercise adherence and marking the exercises as completed in the Physiotools Trainer mobile app.  Their training activity can also be monitored in Physiotools by their physiotherapist.   

What practices have been developed in FSHS? 

At the beginning of last year, when Heidi started working for FSHS, the use of Physiotools was quite limited and occasional. Efforts have since been made to increase use by providing training and encouraging physiotherapists to use Physiotools. 

Another important reform was the integration of Physiotools into their patient administration system, Acute. Exercise programs are now saved directly in Acute, so that Physiotherapists can see the exercises that have been given to the student. In addition, when saved, the exercise program is automatically sent to the student´s Physiotools Trainer mobile app and does not need to be sent separately by the physiotherapist.  

Unification has not been painless. “It’s surprising how hard it is to change familiar habits. Change requires justification and the physiotherapist must personally experience the benefits of change in order for the new practices to be accepted. We are moving in a good direction and, of course, working remotely has also accelerated the change. Physiotools has made it easy for exercise programs to be sent to students remotely.”  

How does the coronavirus affect your work habits? 

Currently FSHS operates mainly remotely. A camera is set up so that the physiotherapist can show how the exercises should be performed. After the session, the physiotherapist sends the exercise program to the student from Physiotools. Wearing of a mask is also mandatory. Hygiene is emphasized, although it is already a matter of course for those working in the healthcare sector. In addition, the Helsinki training hall is closed and no group activities have been organized.  

How are you motivated in your own work?  

“It’s always motivating when the people around you are enthusiastic and want to take things forward,” Heidi says. “The same, of course, applies to students. Enthusiasm breeds enthusiasm and well-being and, through it, new thoughts and ideas are also born”.  

If you could change anything in your work, what would it be? 

Heidi can’t think of many things that she would like to change in her work. Resources are, of course, an eternal challenge in publicly funded healthcare, whether it is related to the development of electronic systems, the hiring of people, or the use of time. “Sometimes it would be wonderful to let the ideas fly and try all sorts of possibilities, even digital ones, but when everything always comes with a price tag, you have to consider the cost,” she ponders. 

Another thing that Heidi mentions is the coronavirus. “I have these small wishes to change my work: take the coronavirus away and get the resources in order” she concluded with a twinkle in her eye.  


FSHS - Finnish Student Health Service

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