We Have To See The Problem Before Anyone Else Will
I've run across an interesting phenomenon in my career. If someone were to go to a mechanic and that mechanic can't fix a car, the person wouldn't walk away and say that all car mechanics are bad. Just this one didn't do a good job. If someone were to go to a surgeon and the surgery didn't turn out well, the person would say that maybe it wasn't the best surgeon performing the surgery. They don't say that surgery in general doesn't work. However somehow if someone gets a bad PT, they end up associating it with the entire field. I've seen patients who had a bad PT who didn't do their job and assumed that the whole field was like that. Sadly, I've had physicians make that exact same mistake. They sent a patient to PT, didn't get a good result, so they wrote off the field entirely and stopped referring. I've had patients in my office that I could tell had a wall up because they had a bad experience in the past. These are actually my favorite cases. Some will be open about what happened before. Some will just say that they had previously seen a PT. So I got into the habit of asking patients what their previous PT appointments looked like. At first I was shocked by what I heard. Then I heard the same things too many times. Each appointment started with heat, then exercise, then maybe ice. Sometimes the PT would spend 5 minutes stretching the patient or giving them a little massage. Ok, now I understand why many people have written off the profession.
As a profession, we sometimes do a bad job of differentiating and celebrating the individual providers. I recently gave a CEU presentation at a national PT company. I looked up the company and specific clinic I would be speaking at online, trying to find out who the PT's were that practiced there. Nothing. The company advertised itself and gave a blanket statement of what treatment looked like at that location. Some standard patient testimonials that said something like "I wouldn't go anywhere else for PT!" The information on the individual providers was nowhere to be found. Like it didn't even matter. We're all the same, right? Well if we don't hold ourselves to a higher standard and advertise and celebrate the individual achievements and experience of good PT's who are highly educated and highly skilled, then we can't expect anyone else to care. But in a field that is becoming more diverse with more specialization of providers, we need to put the effort into individualizing the providers. Not all mechanics are created equal. Some don't know what they're doing with German cars. Not all surgeons are the same. Some are performing their first surgery and some have performed thousands of surgeries and are experts. Not all PT's are the same either. I guess I can't expect the general public to understand this when the profession doesn't understand this about themselves.
-Shaun Palmer, PT, DPT, ATC