Term & Title Protection for the #PhysicalTherapist & #PhysicalTherapy

The American Physical Therapy Association recently constructed a Term and Title Resource Center regarding the use of the terms physical therapy and physiotherapy as well as the titles physical therapist, physiotherapist, PT, DPT, and MPT.

They have even constructed a 1 page advertisement, that I think is actually rather clever. The APTA announces

The full-page color advertisement will run in future editions of State Legislatures magazine, the monthly publication of the National Conference of State Legislatures which is provided to state legislators, legislative staff, and other state policy makers in all US jurisdictions.

I commend the APTA for their efforts and resources, which are no doubt, an important step. And, there have been some victories. Virginia successfully enacted term protection for physical therapy and title protection for physical therapists.

Unfortunately, physical therapists are currently losing this battle on both the legislative (lack of term protection laws), but just as importantly, the judicial level. In 2010, the Washington State Supreme Court issued an impactful ruling that dealt specifically with physician owned physical therapy services (POPTS). But, the ruling also has significant ramifications for the use of the term physical therapy.  Details about the ruling can be found in an APTA released statement. The Kentucky Supreme Court issued a similar opinion.

The Washington State Supreme Court Opinion states:

Physical therapy is one aspect of the practice of medicine. The practice of medicine is defined by RCW 18.71.011(1) as ‘[o]ffer[ing] or undertak[ing] to diagnose, cure, advise, or prescribe for any human disease, ailment, injury, infirmity, deformity, pain or other condition, physical or mental, real or imaginary, by any means or instrumentality.’ This broad definition readily encompasses all the acts constituting the statutory definition of the practice of physical therapy.

Ouch. But, it gets worse. The Washington State Medical Association exclaimed “Big Win in Supreme Court!!!” following the ruling. They continue:

The decision represents a victory for physicians and medical practices, not only because it is now clear they can employ physical therapists, but because an adverse ruling could have outlawed their employment of other licensed health care professionals (such as nurses).

Double ouch. The ruling as well as the medical community’s reaction clearly illustrate that legislators, the judicial system, and physicians do not view physical therapy as a unique profession nor physical therapists as skilled, collaborative, unique members of the healthcare team. It appears physical therapy continues to be viewed as a prescribed or provided modality with physical therapists as mere technicians or employees under the physician umbrella.

We either need to more aggressive with our formal national, state, and local legislative lobbying and education (including legislators,  patients, colleagues, etc), or we we need to seek and secure allies within the medical and healthcare community, including but not limited to physicians. I vote for both.

What are you doing to #SolvePT? What should we do at the grassroots level?


Term and Title Resources via the American Physical Therapy Association
Term Protection Advertisement/Handout
Physician Owned Physical Therapy Services (POPTS) and Referral for Profit via AAOMPT Student Special Interest Group Blog
APTA Statement on WA Supreme Court Decision
WA Supreme Court Decision and Statement
Virginia Term Protection
Kentucky Court Ruling Information[/list]

11 Replies to “Term & Title Protection for the #PhysicalTherapist & #PhysicalTherapy”

  1. Kyle:

    A very interesting post with lots of “ouches” in there for sure. This is, yet again, another issue for which the APTA should have been proactive a long, long time ago.

    I would suggest that the solutions lie in going directly to the consumer. Give them an analogy they understand. For example, does anyone just call themselves a “physician”? Doesn’t that term protection make sense? Then ask the same consumer if it would be ok for just anyone to use the term “physical therapist”. Follow that up with “Should their legislators allow this to happen?”.

    I would disagree that “legislators, the judicial system, and physicians do not view physical therapy as a unique profession”. They are fully aware of what we do and what we bring to the table. That is exactly what concerns them most. We are the profession that could truly move “health care” into a different place, and that concerns them. They wouldn’t be spending all the $$ if they didn’t view us as a real threat.

    “If you dislike change, you’re going to dislike irrelevance even more”. (Eric Shinseki)

  2. Allan,

    Nice patient education example. I like that.

    Very interesting point on “they” being fully aware of what we do and bring to the table. I agree, that likely many physicians (and other professional groups….especially ones that end in practor) know exactly what we do, and that is why they fight some of these legislative battles. Turf protection. I am not so sure that legislators and the public at large do truly understand.

    I had included any thoughts on the various reasons why we may be loosing this battle, or why other professions may fight it. Thank you for that insight!

    Legislators would have no reason to protect one profession over another, they serve the public and society. They should be guided by reason. Oh wait, unless they were making decisions based on contributions, money, and lobbying…..uh oh….

  3. Or, put another way, my second to last paragraph could containt “I guess physicians and legislators do not want PT PUBLICLY portrayed”

  4. Legislators will be guided by $$ until voters force them to be accountable. If consumers would realize that these decisions impact their right to choose, their access to care, and while costing them $$ and not having a positive effect on their outcome, then they might be compelled to vote differently.

    We need a grassroots effort.

  5. If we wanted more info on Term and Title Protection through the APTA who could we contact? Any Ideas?

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