Depending on your setting and expertise, you may or may not be asked to take on a special role during this time. There are some resources to assist you from the World Confederation of Physical Therapy. But don’t feel like you have to do everything. We have such a varied skill set as a profession that we fall all across the board when it comes to crisis response. Here are some thoughts on roles you can play.
The big one that most people think of is trauma triage.
Most people think of a physical therapist as someone they see after a broken leg or an ankle sprain or a surgery.
So the natural next step would be to triage injuries so that doctors and nurses can provide medical treatment for very serious life-threatening injuries, and then PTs can take over for the non-life-threatening injuries that just need training, education, or exercise.
PTs can easily provide medical screenings of patients and nonpatients.
And we don’t have to be limited to virus screenings, either. PTs can screen visitors and other providers for symptoms and provide education on quarantine guidelines. We can also screen people for secondary issues that will determine their course of care, like fall risk, and pneumonia risk. PTs can also check and monitor vitals to ensure people stay safe.
Something people probably don’t see PTs do often is chronic condition management, but there are some PT’s who provide this type of care everyday.
Like care for COPD, CHF, Diabetes, Gout, RA, and anything else that sticks with you for the long term. In times of crisis, PTs can assess these patients for acute and non-acute needs and provide basic and advanced interventions as part of their normal scope of practice. Of course this would include taking medical histories and determining the needs of each patient which most of us do pretty much every day, anyway.
This would also include wound care. At the very minimum, PTs can provide basic first aid and treat minor to moderate wounds, but some PTs actually specialize in wound treatment and can treat advanced, complicated, and chronic wounds easily.
PTs can also play a natural role in Accessibility Consultation. Sometimes, people have to be relocated because of a disaster affecting their home. PTs can help search out, extract, and move people whether they are injured or not. And once we get them out, we can assess what accessibility needs they will have at the new location. PTs can determine if they will need medical equipment like walkers or crutches and teach people how to use them. And if there aren’t enough PTs to do the people moving, we can train others how to safely move people so they don’t get hurt in the process.
PTs can also take on administrative roles to reduce the burden on others. This can include simple tasks like inventorying, stocking, recommending, and moving supplies and coordinating other services like dieticians, social workers, and nonclinical help. PTs are also prime coordinators when it comes to people management. Our expertise is human movement, so when it comes to moving large masses, we can take control and do this safely.
For people who are already under medical care, PTs can provide assessment of rehabilitation potential during field (on site) or facility triage phases and facilitation of discharge by assisting patients to functionally recover enough to return home or to another level of care like a rehab unit.
Outpatient therapists are currently working on seeing patients virtually as much as possible. However, the overarching goal of outpatient therapists will likely soon transition to offloading primary care physicians, emergency departments, and urgent cares from orthopedic injuries and pain management concerns. Some Outpatient Orthopedic clinics have already transitioned to urgent orthopedic care centers utilizing direct access rights!
And, of course, PTs are all trained in minimum emergency response, or what we call Basic Life Support. This means we can participate in Code Teams and provide CPR/AED support. Some PTs are trained in Advanced Cardiac Life Support and are able to provide even further care in these situations.
Looking at this list, I’m betting lots of people don’t know we do all of these things!
People like the general public or your hospital administrators. Even people like your community emergency response team (CERT). And they will never know unless you tell them.
We are SO much more than greeters or chauffeurs (yes, that is how PTs are being utilized right now), but we HAVE to educate others.
Join the international team of PTs responding to COVID-19!
Are you taking on an unexpected role due to COVID-19? Let me know in the comments!
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