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Essential Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Physical Therapist

Find the Best Physical Therapist for Your Condition

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Updated September 25, 2012

If you have an injury or illness that results in pain or a loss of functional mobility, you doctor may refer you to physical therapy. You may also be able to refer yourself to physical therapy via direct access.

Finding a physical therapist is easy. You can check online or in the phone book. Your doctor may have suggestions as to which physical therapist may be right for your specific condition. Or, you can ask a friend who may have been to physical therapy.

But how do you know that you are going to choose the right physical therapist for you?

Here are essential questions to ask before deciding on a physical therapist. Asking these questions can help you make an informed decision about your rehabilitation and can help you find the best physical therapist for your specific condition.

  1. Do you accept my insurance? It may sound like a simple question, but so many patients attend physical therapy without knowing about their insurance coverage. Before attending physical therapy, make sure that your therapist accepts your insurance. Doing so can save you from a big headache, and perhaps a big out-of-pocket expense.

    Contact your insurance company yourself as well and double check your physical therapy benefits. Understanding how much you may have to pay out-of-pocket can help you make better decisions about your physical therapy care.

  2. What is your cancellation or no show policy? Some physical therapy clinics charge their patients a fee if an appointment is cancelled without appropriate notice, usually 24 hours ahead of time. If you fail to show up for an appointment, you may be charged a fee.
    Sometimes emergencies occur and appointments get missed or a late cancellation must occur. By understanding your physical therapist's cancellation policy, you may be able to avoid extra fees during your rehabilitation.

  3. Do you specialize in treating my condition? Many physical therapists are board certified clinical specialists. This means that they have passed rigorous tests and have spent many documented hours treating a specific condition or population.

    For example, if your child needs physical therapy, you may wish to see a certified pediatric specialist. Your knee pain or hip pain may be best treated by an orthopedic clinical specialist. If you are an older person, a geriatric clinical specialist may be best to treat your specific condition.

    The McKenzie Method is a specialized evaluation and treatment process for people with low back pain or neck pain. Physical therapists that are certified in this method may be best suited to treat these painful conditions.

  4. How many patients do you see at one time? Some physical therapists choose to spend time with only one patient for each appointment, while others may treat two or three patients at one time. While there is no specific evidence that points to one practice paradigm being superior to another, if you feel you may need more individualized attention, be sure to choose a physical therapist that only treats one patient at a time.

  5. Will I see the same physical therapist for each appointment, or will I be assigned a different therapist each time? Some physical therapy clinics schedule patients with the same physical therapist for each appointment. This can help you develop a therapeutic relationship that may be best for your situation. Other clinics may schedule your appointments with the first available therapist, and you may see many different therapists during the course of your treatment program. This may allow you to experience different treatment strategies for your condition.

    If you feel that you would do better by seeing the same physical therapist for each visit, be sure to request that you do so.

  6. Will my care be provided by a physical therapist assistant or a therapy aide? Physical therapist assistants are licensed professionals who are able to assist physical therapists in providing your care. They are qualified to carry out the treatment plan that you and your physical therapist develop during your initial appointment in physical therapy. Your physical therapist may work closely with an assistant to provide your care.

    Physical therapy aides help physical therapists by preparing treatment areas and prepping therapeutic modalities that may be used during your treatment. They may also help patients move from the waiting area to the treatment areas in a clinic. Physical therapy aides are not licensed professionals and should never be providing your direct treatment in a physical therapy clinic.

    By asking about who is providing your treatment, you can be sure that you are receiving care from an appropriate professional.

If you have never attended physical therapy before, you may not be sure what to look out for to ensure that you receive the best possible care. By asking a few simple questions before choosing a physical therapist, you can be sure that you make the most out of your physical therapy experience.

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