When it comes to choosing a physical therapist (PT), you’ve got choices. With all states now allowing direct access in some form to physical therapy services—meaning there’s no need to visit a physician prior to seeking therapy—the ball truly is in your court.
But choice is both a privilege and a burden—after all, how do you know which PT will provide you with the highest-quality, most effective care? While there’s no Magic 8-Ball that will reveal the perfect PT for you, there are a few factors that might help you narrow down the list. So, before you jump into treatment, make sure your PT:
1. Makes you feel comfortable.
Physical therapy is a process, and you’re going to spend a considerable amount of time with your PT. To ensure a pleasant experience, you should make sure you and your therapist jive both professionally and personally. He or she should be someone you can trust—someone who not only welcomes your questions and concerns, but provides thoughtful answers in a way that’s easy for you to understand. He or she also should exercise superb listening skills and should treat you as a whole person—not just a condition or injury. Above all, your PT should be totally invested in your care; he or she should want to heal you just as much as you want to heal.
Before you schedule an appointment at a particular clinic, call the office and ask to speak with the physical therapist. During your conversation, ask whether the therapist has seen cases similar to yours and whether treatment in those cases was successful. Get a feel for his or her expertise and enthusiasm. If you’re left with a positive feeling, chances are good that you’ll have a positive therapy experience as well.
2. Emphasizes one-on-one treatment and continuity of treatment.
PTs sometimes provide therapy in a group setting instead of one-on-one. There is no evidence refuting the effectiveness of group therapy, and it can be beneficial in some instances. However, if you prefer individualized attention, you’ll want to make sure that your PT is on the same page.
Additionally, if you seek care in a physical therapy clinic that employs more than one PT, you should consider whether you will receive treatment from the same therapist every time you go in for an appointment. Bouncing from one PT to another could lead to inefficiencies or redundancies, which could impede your progress.
3. Has the right credentials.
All PTs should be licensed in their state of practice, and any clinic worth its salt will only allow therapists with valid, up-to-date credentials to treat patients. Still, it doesn’t hurt to verify a PT’s qualifications. On that note, keep in mind that the educational level required of PTs has changed over the years. Nowadays, all PT-school graduates receive doctorate degrees (listed as “DPT”), but PTs who graduated several years ago may have received master’s degrees (listed as “MPT”) or bachelor’s degrees (listed as “BSPT” or simply “PT”) instead—although those degrees in no way mean that the PT is less knowledgeable about physical therapy practice.
In addition to academic degrees and state licensure, many PTs obtain postgraduate credentials in certain specialties, such as sports, orthopedics, pediatrics, geriatrics, pelvic health, or manual therapy. Board-certified clinical specialists have passed rigorous exams in their areas of specialization and have logged numerous hours treating specific patient conditions and/or populations.
Be on the lookout for credentials like “PTA,” which means “physical therapist assistant.” While these professionals are allowed to provide therapy services under the supervision of a licensed PT, other non-PT clinic employees—such as physical therapy technicians or aides—are not licensed to provide physical therapy.
4. Specializes in your particular area of need.
On the subject of specialized credentials, you may find PTs who specialize in specific areas of treatment. It may be beneficial to seek therapy from a PT who focuses on providing the exact type of treatment you need. After all, chances are that he or she has seen multiple patients with cases similar to yours. For example, if you are seeking treatment for an athletic injury, you might want to look for a therapist who specializes in sports. (Refer to #3 above for other examples of PT specialties.) Additionally, some PTs specialize in particular areas of the body, such as the back, neck, knee, hand, or shoulder.
5. Accepts your insurance.
Before you book your first appointment, check to see whether the clinic accepts your insurance. That way, there are no surprises—like big out-of-pocket expenses—down the road. It’s also a good idea to determine the extent to which your plan covers therapy. Find out if you’re responsible for a copay, and if so, what the amount is for each visit. Also, many plans place a limit on the number of covered physical therapy visits—or place a cap on the total amount they will reimburse—for each benefit period. These are details you should know prior to beginning therapy.
Remember, your PT is more than just a professional you’re hiring to complete a job—he or she should act as a partner in your health and wellbeing. And with any partnership, compatibility is key.
About.com (“Essential Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Physical Therapist”)
ptstl.com (“How to Find the Right Physical Therapist”)
Readingberkspt.com (“7 Things to Know Before Choosing a Physical Therapist”)
MoveforwardPT.com (“Choosing Your Physical Therapist”)