47% of American’s suffer from a musculoskeletal condition. If this is true, every physical therapy clinic should be bursting at the seams. They’re not. This is largely due to a poor job of the PT profession at educating the public on WHAT we do, WHEN you should see a PT, and HOW to choose a physical therapist.
How do I choose the best physical therapist for me?
1. You don’t go to physical therapy, you see a physical therapist. There is a difference.
I’m not sure how this terminology started in the physical therapy field. If you go to see a physician or a dentist or a mechanic you say “I’m going to the doctor, the dentist, or the mechanic”. It’s clear, you’re going to see a person for a specific service. However, when it comes to PT the phrasing is typically “I’m going to physical therapy.”
Using language we’ve broadened physical therapy so wide that it must all be the same right?
When you need physical therapy, you need a physical therapist. You need a good one and not just whoever is convenient or close. When we schedule a surgery, we look for the BEST surgeon and research them thoroughly. However, when it comes to PT we choose the easiest or most convenient option.
You should research your physical therapist the same as you would your surgeon, dentist, or any other specialist.
Many physical therapists are generalists, and this is ok. However, there are multiple advanced certifications within the field of PT. You have to know who you are and where you fit in and what you want/need the most. . Designations such as Orthopedic Certified Specialist (OCS), Women’s Health Certified Specialist (WCS), and Neurologic Certified Specialist (NCS) are just a few of the PT specialty certifications.
Looking for these designations may help you find the PT in your area with the most expertise for a specific problem.
2. Who am I and do they know me?
This is a big one.
Choosing the right PT requires a good bit of self awareness and realism. You need to know who you are and what your goals are.
Let me expound.
I founded Faith in Motion because I consistently saw highly active adults wind up in clinics who are equipped and educated to treat geriatric patients and low activity individuals. In these scenarios athletes that can squat 500 pounds are treated exactly the same as your 82 year old grandmother. Unfortunately, they often get poor care.
On the flip side, if you are an older adult with Parkinson’s you are going to get better care in an outpatient clinic with a neuro specialist than a performance based clinic with a niche of baseball players.
You have to know who you are and where you fit it. If you walk into a clinic and feel out of place, you’re probably in the wrong place.
3. Ask a lot of questions
It’s ok to be a skeptic. I love it when my patients ask a lot of questions. It means that they care.
Here are some great questions to ask when calling to schedule a PT visit:
-What specialty certifications or experience will my provider have at solving (insert the problem that you have here)?
-Will my visits be 1on1 with my PT or will they be responsible for seeing multiple patients at the same time? How much time will my PT spend with me only on a typical visit?
-Will I see a PT EVERY visit or will I be working with an assistant or technician? -Will I see the SAME PT every visit or different providers?
-What will my total cost be for the total rehab plan of care and not just per visit copay?
These are incredibly important questions. If a clinic or provider can not answer any of these
questions clearly then you have a major red flag.
4. What can I afford?
When I talk about expense in regards to PT I want to focus on 2 primary areas.
Finances and time. What can you afford from both?
In the world of outpatient physical therapy there are 2 types of clinics. The traditional in- network model and the out-of-network performance based model.
These models vary greatly and benefit different people. For a deeper dive check out our old blog “5 Reasons “Why” Cash PT” for more information on the performance based model.
If you’re an older adult on a fixed budget or with medicare benefits, going the traditional route is a great option. Most PT clinics treat a majority of medicare patients and are familiar with problems in that population. This population typically is retired and has more time and can easily afford going to PT 3x week.
On the other hand, if you’re a middle aged adult or young professional the traditional route may not be the best option. If you have resources, you may want the best care available to you even if the cost is slightly higher.
The thought of taking 2-3 hours a week for PT treatment plus an additional 1.5 hours commuting to PT may be laughable. The time cost may be too high.
For these folks, the performance based model is often the best fit. These models typically see patients once a week with more 1 one 1 care which allows them to achieve goals in fewer visits.
I heard a business owner say once that “You can get a service cheap, fast, or good. But you can only choose 1 or if you’re lucky 2 of those."
This holds true for physical therapy more than you know.
5. Ask your friends and not your doctor
It’s a common thought that patients must go wherever their doctor refers them to for PT.
This is not true.
Often the place where your doctor refers you is NOT the best fit for you.
Often instead it’s only because it is within the same company (incentive to keep business within) or simply because there has been a long standing relationship there. Neither of these things are bad, but that doesn’t change the fact that it may not be BEST for you.
Instead ask your friends where they have gone and had exceptional experiences.
Your friends are likely very similar to you. They likely do the same activities, run in the same crowds, have similar interests and likes.
If they had an incredible experience at PT, there’s a good chance you might too.
Ask your friends and not your doctor.
In conclusion, I hope this blog helps you choose the best PT provider for you. Physical therapists are NOT created equal. Physical therapy is a specialty field with a wide range of skills and knowledge. You need the provider with the skillset that best solves your problem. Don’t stop until you find them.