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Peter Prinsen hopes to stimulate improvement...

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Improving the quality of physical therapy care is amongst the goals of Windward Islands Physical Therapy Association (WIPTA) President Peter Prinsen.

Prinsen, a physical and manual therapist at St. Maarten Health Care Clinic, was elected president of WIPTA earlier this year.

He told Health and Beauty that his goals as president are to work with his team to professionalise WIPTA; improve public relations, communication and quality; and invest in good relations with stakeholders, such as the Ministry of Public Health and Social and Health Care Insurance SZV.

WIPTA is an individual membership professional organisation representing physical therapists in St. Maarten. There are almost 20 members in the association.

WIPTA's overall goals are to improve the health and quality of life of individuals by advancing the physical therapy practice, education and by increasing the awareness and understanding of the role of physical therapy in the healthcare system in St. Maarten.

Prinsen decided to assume the president's post because he saw it as a challenge to play a role in the development of physical therapy in St. Maarten. "As president, I see myself as a coach of the WIPTA team. A coach is somebody who strives to get the best out of his team by guiding and motivating members. The WIPTA is not about me, it's about the team. Only by working and participating together can we make a real difference and achieve goal," he said.

Other WIPTA members are Kim te Riele (secretary), Yin Shan Lau (member), Sebastiaan Hoendervangers (treasurer) and Michael Benjamin (member).

Almost every physical association clinic is represented on the WIPTA board. Meetings are held monthly (every first Wednesday) at a different clinic.

In identifying some of the major issues affecting physical therapists in St. Maarten, Prinsen said, "The world of today is not the world of yesterday or tomorrow. The role and position of physical therapy has changed over the years and will continue to change in the future. Due to changes in the budget of health insurances (social and private) and different opinions concerning our role in the health care system, physical therapy constantly needs to prove its necessity and value in the healthcare system, even more now than in the past. Evidence based practice is an important part of this process. Over the past 10 years, a lot of research has been done concerning the role of physical therapy. It has been proven that in certain cases, it is a better alternative than an operation for example. Therefore, this contributes to a better and more cost effective solution in treating patients. This can have an impact on the healthcare budget of a country such as St. Maarten where a lot of patients are sent abroad for treatment."

According to Prinsen, lifestyle related diseases, such as hypertension, diabetics and obesity, that have a major effect on healthcare systems need a more structured treatment approach. "Healthcare workers need to work together more. Physical therapists can play an important role in guiding patients towards a more active and healthier lifestyle. Prevention is the key word. There are groups, associations and healthcare workers who are busy setting up good structures, but still a lot of work needs to be done in St. Maarten when it comes to prevention."

He said too that communication amongst physical therapists and the various stakeholders is not always smooth. "No communication leads to frustration. We all live together on this beautiful island, but to achieve development in several areas of healthcare, we need to communicate and work more together."

Prinsen was born in a small village on the German border in the eastern part of the Netherlands. Almost everyone in his immediate family is working in the healthcare sector, so it was natural for him to also join this field as part of what he calls his "family history."

He graduated from Hogeschool Amsterdam, Netherlands, with a Bachelor's degree in physical therapy in 2001. He went to Zambia in Africa to do an internship in a rehabilitation centre during the last year of his studies. He completed his study for Manual Therapy SOMT in Amersfoort, Netherlands, in 2007. In 2008, he started to work as a teacher at the International School for Physical Therapy Thim van der Laan. He also worked for 10 years in a private clinic in Hilversum, Netherlands.

In September 2011, Prinsen moved to St. Maarten and started working full-time at St. Maarten Health Care Clinic. In August 2013, he started working part-time in St. Eustatius.

Prinsen said he sees a variety of patients with all kinds of movement related problems. "A physical therapist is actually a specialist in movement. Most of our patients are referred by their family doctor or specialist. The reason for referral can be diverse," he says.

Referrals can be based on complaints related to pain and limited strength in muscles or pain, stiffness and reduced range of motion in joints. Referrals can also be due to a reduced body condition or body control. "All these complaints can start due to (sports/work-related) injuries, a disease/disorder or just a symptom of old age."

When a patient visits a physical therapist for the first time, an analysis of the problem and a treatment plan are discussed. To make an analysis of the problem, the physical therapist follows a diagnostic procedure by doing an interview and a physical examination. Based on evidence, experience and the individual patient values, the physical therapist will set up a treatment plan which contains an end goal, an estimate of the necessary number of therapy sessions and the type of treatment; massage, stretching, exercise, dry needling, mobilisation/manipulation (or a combination of these).

"During the therapy sessions, the physical therapist works together with the patient to reach the end goal. So hopefully after the estimated period of time, the patient will be experiencing fewer complaints and an improvement of functioning in daily living," explained Prinsen.

In giving a practical example, Prinsen said if a person is running and sprains his or her ankle, the physical therapist will do an analysis of the trauma and set up a treatment plan. Treatment will begin on the first visit. The physical therapist will instruct/inform the patient concerning rest, use of ice, bandage or/and crutches. In a later (post-acute) phase, the physical therapist will start treatment to improve the function of the ankle joint by moving it to avoid more stiffness and improve mobility. Step-by-step, the physical therapist will guide the patient to a more functional level. By doing exercises, the ankle will get stronger and more controlled, until the patient is able to run again."

Besides a physical therapist, Prinsen is also a manual therapist. Manual therapy is a master study that one can follow after obtaining one's Bachelor's degree in physical therapy. Manual therapy is a specialist in muscular-skeletal related disorders. A manual therapist has more knowledge and tools to diagnose and treat spine-related complaints. There are only a few manual therapists on the island.

Prinsen said it's challenging to find a solution together with patients for a movement-related problem. "Every patient needs a different approach; and every problem needs a different solution. It's a very diverse and dynamic job. In my personal life, I like to move a lot as well. I participate in sports as running, swimming and cycling. Movement is just an important part of my life," he said.

Prinsen sees himself as a strong opinionated, dedicated and involved people person who likes to learn and teach. "That is why I like the following quote from Richard Branson: 'You don't learn by following rules. You learn by doing and by falling over'."

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