Definition and Overview
A physical therapy follow-up is a subsequent appointment or visit to a physical therapist after the initial evaluation or basic therapy has been completed.
Physical therapy is a medicine specialty that focuses on the diagnosis, treatment, and management of conditions and injuries that affect the musculoskeletal system such as the bones, joints, tendons, and ligaments. Its main goals are to restore the function of the affected body part and increase mobility, endurance, and flexibility.
Often, physical therapy is confused with occupational therapy since their scope is very similar. However, their objectives are different. While physical therapy works directly with injuries and musculoskeletal conditions in the hopes of correcting or treating them, occupational therapy is mainly concerned with the application of techniques or methods that will allow the patient to function despite the presence of injury, condition, or disability.
Who Should Undergo and Expected Results
A physical therapy follow-up is ideal for:
- Patients who have undergone initial PT sessions – The main goal of a PT follow-up is to ensure that the recommended treatment plan is working as expected.
- Patients who are at a high risk of another injury or long-term disability – Physical therapy helps increase the range of mobility, endurance, and flexibility of the patient by working on the affected body part. The techniques, however, do not guarantee that the same area will not be injured again or it will restore full function. A PT follow-up is helpful to continuously monitor the recovery and reduce associated risks.
- Referred patients – Referrals for a PT follow-up may come from other health care practitioners including surgeons and primary physicians.
PT follow-ups can offer the following benefits:
- Close monitoring of the patient’s progress
- Quick adjustment of patient's PT plan according to the present need and problem
- Faster recovery
- Reduced risks and complications arising from the injury or condition
How Does the Procedure Work?
Physical therapists work in different health care settings including hospitals, clinics, and community-based health centers. They may also be in private practice or work alongside other non-health professionals such as trainers, coaches, and dietitians.
A follow-up often follows a comprehensive evaluation of the patient. Around this time, the PT has already:
- Determined the medical profile of the patient
- Identified the main complaint
- Created a customized PT plan
- Performed the initial PT session
- Provided a program that can be performed by the patient in the comfort of his own home with or without the help of a PT
All the medical records of the patient like the treatments applied, medications, visits, doctors, and complaints should be properly documented, and they are accessed during follow-up sessions.
The follow-up sessions are scheduled right after a treatment plan has been completed, whether what’s provided is basic or comprehensive. It may also be carried out once the patient enters into an outpatient program.
Unlike the initial consultation and treatment, follow-up visits are expected to be shorter, lasting about 30 minutes, although in some cases, they take an hour, especially if there are new techniques that have to be introduced or performed.
During the follow-up, the PT reviews the patient’s medical records, as well as performs a physical exam and interview, which shall give the PT a clearer picture of the patient’s general condition and complaint, if any. More tests such as imaging exams may be required.
The PT then returns to the previous plan and if necessary, adjusts the details to make it more appropriate to the present issue or need of the patient. The PT may suggest new kinds of techniques and tools, which can be used during PT sessions in the health care setting or at home.
The follow-up may take one or more visits depending on the response, severity of the condition, age, and preexisting diseases, among others.
Possible Risks and Complications
While many patients are able to regain their body’s normal function in only a few sessions, some may take longer (some take years) to achieve their desired outcome. This means that follow-up sessions may become frequent, which can be frustrating for the patient whose only hope is to be well.
Further, patients may struggle with PT payments, which may prevent them from following through with the after-treatment schedules. It’s best if patients check with their insurance company first before selecting a PT or apply for co-pay if it means a more inclusive coverage.
- American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)