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Physical Therapists Take the Lead in the Military’s Team-Based Care Approach

POSTED BY: Florida Hospital

The U.S. military is a family that aims to take care of their own — especially when it comes to the complete medical care of their soldiers. The military was an early adopter of the team-based, patient-centered model of health care that’s starting to be employed by major health institutions around the country, including Florida Hospital. To learn more about this novel approach to patient care we spoke with board-certified orthopaedic clinical specialist and U.S. Army veteran, Jason Cirolia.

Patient-Centered Care

“Physical therapy has changed a lot over the last 20 years,” says Cirolia. “And the role it plays in health care has changed dramatically in the last ten years, especially. Today in the team-based health care model, P.T. is frequently integrated into interdisciplinary approaches for problems like acute sports injuries, dizziness and balance problems, muscle and joint injuries, and disorders well-suited to our expertise.”

The goal of this style of health care is to be respectful of, and responsive to, your individual preferences, needs and values while also being as efficient as possible. A team of professionals works collaboratively to ensure the most effective and least expensive care by not ordering more imaging and tests than necessary. This approach not only increases your access to care but also saves you money.

“In the military, they utilize the capabilities of the care provider and do not restrict care based solely on the role of the care provider,” explains Cirolia. “With this approach you’ll see a huge increase in the access to care that you have and major savings for everyone involved. In this new paradigm of health care, P.T.s are positioned to be the new gatekeepers to the rest of the team of care providers and the frontline defense against overtreatment.”

Increased Access and Reduced Costs

“By taking on the role of physician extenders, much like physician assistants (P.A.s) have been doing for years now, we can cut down on the number of patients a physician has to see by treating them ourselves,” says Cirolia. “It isn’t necessary for a physician to be involved in all muscular skeletal cases seen by physical therapists.”

Currently, you can see a P.T. without a referral for 30 days, which in many cases will be enough time to treat your issue. And if the P.T. assesses that your situation requires further assessment outside of their scope, you’ll be given a referral to a doctor in the appropriate field.

“The biggest cost savings that come from this model of care is when it comes to imaging for cases of pain and chronic pain,” says Cirolia. “MRIs are the most expensive selfie you can take. Recent studies by surgeons have shown that 95% of MRIs were unnecessary for treating pain and were often detrimental to the health and comfort of the patient. In fact, it’s been found that 59% of all MRIs were completely unnecessary and resulted in approximately $300,000,000 of wasted money, every year in the U.S.”

The Future of Team-Based Health Care for Civilians

P.T.s aren't seeking to replace primary care physicians but are able to provide primary health care within the scope of their training and expertise, which is low-cost, low-risk, and proven effective for many common medical conditions.

Primary care providers in team settings need to be able to evaluate and manage a wide variety of injuries, illnesses, and disorders. No one profession can do it all. An ideal primary care team will be able to triage and direct the patient to the right team member. For example, chronic back pain would be referred to the team’s physical therapist, the flu symptoms referred to the nurse practitioner, and the more obscure symptoms referred to the physician.

Currently, there are barriers to translating this team-based model to civilian care, such as high copays and Medicare not recognizing P.T.s as primary care providers. But you can still be evaluated by a P.T. rather than a physician if you’re suffering from one of the problems in their area of expertise.

Find a Physical Therapist

If you’re having trouble with an acute sports injury, dizziness and balance, a nerve injury, chronic back pain, or maintaining proper posture, please visit our site or call 407-303-8080. We’ll help you make an appointment to speak with one of our physical therapists for evaluation and guidance on your road to whole health.