How to Choose a Physical Therapist
Not All Rehabilitation Facilities are Created Equal
After an injury or surgery, rehabilitation is often a critical factor on the road to recovery. Since physical therapy is usually a weekly commitment and may be for an extended period of time, convenience is an important consideration. However, many other factors should also be taken into account when deciding where to go. Not all facilities provide the same type or level of care.
It’s important for people to do their homework. The Hospital for Special Surgery Rehabilitation Network, which marked its 20th anniversary this year, is a resource for individuals looking for a facility in their community that meets high standards of care. Information about PT practices in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Florida that belong to the network is available at www.hss.edu/rehab-network.asp.
Recovery from an injury is hard work, and many people don’t realize the importance of choosing the right therapist and facility for their needs. Although most physical therapists are well-trained and provide good care, practices are not all the same. Falling into the wrong hands can do more harm than good.
People may receive a recommendation from their doctor or from a friend who had a positive experience. But it’s up to many individuals to find a rehab center on their own. Practices may have areas of special expertise, and some physical therapists have additional credentials. Some may focus more on sports medicine, while others may specialize in rehabilitation for neck and back problems or after joint replacement. Certified specialties range from pediatric to geriatric physical therapy.
Here are some tips to help you choose a PT practice:
- Choose the right practice for your needs. Call the facility and ask questions to make sure there are physical therapists with expertise in treating your particular problem.
- Ask who will be treating you and how much experience the therapist has. Once you begin physical therapy, make sure you’re receiving care from a licensed physical therapist or a licensed physical therapy assistant.
- Choose a location that is convenient to where you live or work.
- Try to set up a time to take a tour of the facility before beginning therapy. A reputable practice should have no problem arranging a quick visit.
- Note if the facility is clean and well-maintained. Are therapists washing their hands between patients?
- Consider what the atmosphere is like. Are therapists and therapy assistants actively working with patients, or are people standing around waiting to be treated?
- Are people working there wearing a name badge with their job title? They are required to do so in many states, including New York.
- Inquire about the cancellation policy. Some facilities charge a fee for cancelling an appointment.
- Consider how quickly you can get an appointment. If you need to wait more than a week or two, you may be better off finding a facility where you can start sooner, especially if you’ve had recent surgery.
- If health insurance is an important consideration for you, make sure the practice accepts your insurance.
- If you require special equipment, such as a pool, make sure it is available at the facility.
Once you decide where to go, you should be evaluated and treated by a licensed physical therapist. Physical therapy assistants are also trained, licensed professionals, and your therapist may work with an assistant to provide your care.
You should not be receiving treatment from an unlicensed physical therapy aide or technician. Aides help physical therapists with tasks such as basic administrative duties, getting treatment areas ready and escorting patients within the clinic, but they are not legally permitted to provide treatment or instruct patients in exercises. If you’re not sure of the credentials of the person treating you, you have the right to ask.
If you feel the physical therapist is not spending enough time with you, appears distracted, or is bouncing back and forth between you and other patients, you may want to find someone who offers more personalized care and attention. If you ever feel uncomfortable or if an exercise or treatment is painful, speak up.
You should also receive instruction on exercises to do at home. The therapist may provide handouts, a link to a video demonstrating the correct movements, or another form of instruction to ensure you are doing the exercise correctly.
JeMe Cioppa-Mosca is the Vice President of Rehabilitation at Hospital for Special Surgery.
Robin Benick is the Clinical Supervisor of the Hospital for Special Surgery Rehabilitation Network.