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Raising the Bar in Rehab

Annual Physical Therapy Exam

Published June 24, 2011 9:58 AM by

"Recognizing the daunting task of educating the public on the value of visiting a physical therapist (PT) annually, APTA will support the promotion and implementation of an annual exam by coordinating the development and promulgation of best clinical practice screenings and exams to meet the needs of all individuals. The association also will develop resources and tools to help PTs track individual patient outcomes and a plan to enhance public recognition of the need and benefit of an annual exam. [RC-24-11]"

This was the news I read on the APTA website this week - the APTA's public commitment to progressing the PT profession toward annual clinical screenings. I was shocked! I know the APTA works to make changes for PTs, but I kind of always thought of it more in terms of reimbursement and direct access.

Can you even begin to imagine what health care in America would look like if it included annual PT screenings? I mean, really?! When you think about preventive care and compare the differences between, say, dental care in the United States and dental care in Britain (no offense, Dean), it is pretty obvious that preventive care succeeds post-injury care. But recommending an annual PT screening far exceeds preventive care. It emphasizes healthy living, fitness and maintains the functionality of our musculoskeletal systems.

Most annual physicals (with a primary physician) are quite passive. You sit on a table and wait for your doctor to knock on your reflexes, review your blood work and check your blood pressure. Depending on your age group, your doctor will recommend that you either: practice safe sex (in your 20s), get a mammogram (in your 30s/40s), get a colonoscopy (50s) or protect yourself against heart disease (50+). That would be the common summary.

Think of all the things you could accomplish in an annual physical therapy exam. A one-hour session of dynamic tasks focusing on fitness and healthy lifestyles. For those in their 20s, look at alignment during walking and running to prevent athletic or work injuries. For those in their 30s, correct lifting mechanics (to avoid back injury from lifting those babies and infants off the ground!) and for those in their 40s/50s, perhaps a treadmill test to analyze maximum heart rates and provide recommendations to prevent osteoporosis. Actually, I think the osteoporosis conversation should happen earlier as bone loss begins even in your 30s, but those are details we could review later.

I congratulate the APTA for taking initiative to promote the importance of physical therapists. Whoever thought of an annual physical therapy exam is my new hero. It's an excellent idea that should be absolutely marketed to the public, and the benefits should be educated to our patients constantly. Annual physical therapy exams could result in healthier lifestyles, increased functionality and decreased pain in the majority of people across the nation. What will you do to get this practice implemented?


I really enjoyed reading about your thoughts on an annual PT screening.  I am currently a 2nd year DPT student at Lynchburg College in Virginia and am taking a Prevention and Wellness class.  I agree with you in that annual PT screenings could be a huge advantage to our society.  If we, as PT's, are looking to prevent injury and promote a healthy lifestyle, we must have the opportunity to educate our patients BEFORE the injury. It is exciting to think where the profession of physical therapy could be in 10 years!!!

Whitney Talley, student September 6, 2011 10:11 AM

I can't even begin to comment on the dental care here in the UK, it is tragic and no offense taken!

As for annual PT screenings, I worked for a managed long term care plan (insurance company) in NYC before I left. Every member got a minimum of an annual screen by a PT. It dramatically cut costs and prevented injuries and disability. It is one of the few programs not being cut by NY State. It was for dual eligibles, Medicare and Medicaid, who were at risk for nursing home placement.

So this idea already has a proven track record in the frail elderly, imagine the potential in more well individuals! I am pleased to see the focus shift from reactive to proactive healthcare.

Thanks for posting this!

Dean Metz June 24, 2011 11:55 AM

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