As everyone knows, October is National Physical Therapy Month (NPTM). I have celebrated this month-long holiday alongside my colleagues for the past 15 years, but it wasn’t until I sat down to write this article that I really began to think about the purpose of NPTM.
After doing a bit of digging, I found out that people all over the country have been celebrating NPTM in October for more than 20 years with the intent to increase awareness about the benefits of physical therapy. It is typically a time for physical therapists to speak to different groups, host complimentary screenings, and take part in fun community activities.
And it’s just as important today—probably even more so because of shrinking reimbursements and increased competition from other care providers—to use this month (and every other month) to engage with the members of our community, share what we do, and clearly demonstrate our value as members of the healthcare team.
The APTA recently adopted a mission statement that tasks us with “transforming society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience.” But it’s pretty difficult to transform society when most people have no idea what physical therapists do. So to fix this—and to stay competitive—I believe that there are two points we as physical therapists need to make when we interact with our communities:
1. Patients can choose where they attend outpatient physical therapy. With an increasing number of states legalizing physician-owned physical therapy clinics (POPTs), smaller PT-owned clinics continue to suffer. We all need to make sure that people in our communities understand that they do not have to attend therapy at the clinic that their physician recommends. All physical therapists, regardless of the setting in which they work, should know a few good outpatient therapists to recommend. This type of therapy network will allow us to support one another and further our profession.
Additionally, encourage patients to ask their physicians to refer them to physical therapy, even if the physician doesn’t think it is necessary. Many physicians still do not understand our level of expertise, and patients often need to advocate for their own health to receive the care they need.
2. Patients can access PT directly (in most states). Although it is often far from ideal, most states permit some sort of direct access to physical therapy. However, even in the states with full, unrestricted direct access, both physicians and patients are often unaware that they can access PT directly. That’s why we must take it upon ourselves to make our communities aware of their rights. Not only will this benefit the patient, but it will also help us remain competitive in a market where massage therapists, personal trainers, and chiropractors all enjoy the benefits of direct access to clients.
By educating folks about their right to choose a physical therapy provider and access physical therapy services directly, we’re one step further to transforming the society in which we live by optimizing movement. That benefits everyone, and that’s ultimately the point of NPTM—bettering our profession, patients, and communities.