Physical Therapy Practice: 3 mistakes NOT to make during an evaluation

Seeing a patient for the very first time for a physical or occupational therapy evaluation can make or break your relationship with them.  Believe it or not, your knowledge and ability tohelp heal the patient is not always the most important factor.

All physical and occupational therapists go through virtually the same training and educational experience.  It’s YOU that makes the difference in how patients respond build a rapport with you.  In my 7+ years of interviewing and hiring physical therapists, I’ve learned that their skill set is clearly not the more important factor when determining whether to bring them on into my practice or not.  You can teach skills.  You can teach special tests.  You can teach improved patient outcomes.  You cannot, however, train personality and people skills and how your therapist will relate and interact with the rest of your team and the patients.  Just because someone graduated in the top of their class, does not mean they will be a good hire.

There are 3 key mistakes that you can make when a therapist is conducting an evaluation.  If any of these mistakes are made, it can sacrifice the patient experience, and in turn, the overall relationship with your clinic.

1.  Listen.  Patients see doctors for less than 5 minutes, and half the time they don’t listen to them fully, they don’t have the time.  As physical and/or occupational therapists, this is where we differ.  We have an extended amount of time to be able to really know our patients.  Don’t interrupt them and really make sure that they are heard, and their goals are reflective of this.  Good, engaged listening consists of the following:

  • Eye contact – If you’re not looking at your patient when they are talking to you, how can they be sure you are really listening to them?  This is crucial during the evaluation.  A lot of times therapists get caught up in looking at the computer monitor so they don’t get backed up with paperwork.  Don’t let this happen to you!
  • Body language – Face your patient.  Give them your undivided attention when they are speaking to you.  Don’t leave your hand on the doorknob if they are still talking to you and you’re ready to walk out of the room.
  • Appropriate response – This sounds like it should be obvious.  But it’s not really.  If a patient says to you “it’s been hurting for 2 years”, you don’t want to respond with “ok, good.  Where does it hurt?”.  It’s not GOOD that they’ve been hurting for 2 years!!  You have to empathize with them.  Let them know that you’re happy they are here and are headed towards a solution.

2. Educate.  All patients have varying levels of knowledge on physical and occupational therapy and/or their condition.  If a patient comes in for an evaluation and they do not receive some type of education and instruction on what they will encounter coming in for subsequent visits, they tend to not take their treatment as serious.  Utilize videos, handouts, and demonstrations to engage with them and build up their understanding of their condition and progression.

3. Treat.  Make them feel better.  Do not ever let your patient leave the office feeling worse than when they came in.  Would you go back AND spend money if they didn’t give you at least some type of relief?!  I wouldn’t.   In school you learn about all of the tests and measures you need to get from the evaluation; of course these are important, but you shouldn’t cause more pain by doing them!  If you do, then make sure you are doing some type of treatment to correct that at the end.

I feel like a lot of times clinic owners think that some of these things are common sense, but they really aren’t.  Make sure you are training your clinical staff to always keep these key points in their mind so they can create the most productive, yet warm experience during all of their evaluations.




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