Addressing Liability Risks for Physical Therapists

/ / Physical Therapists
Addressing liability risks for physical therapists

Physical therapy malpractice claims have been rising over the past several decades, and that trend is expected to continue. Advance Healthcare Network cites a statistic from the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) Summary for 2010 that there were 1,014 malpractice claims made against physical therapists over the previous 20 years.

A study of more than a decade of claims against physical therapists found that the most frequent claim categories were:

  • Failure to properly supervise the patient
  • Poor or improper technique
  • Injury from manipulation
  • Burns or other heat injuries from the use of hot packs
  • Stretching or exercise injuries

There are ways to cut down on the risks of each of these situations:

  • Scope of Practice – As a physical therapist or physical therapy assistant, you should be careful to adhere to the limits of your scope of practice and standard of care as spelled out by your state licensing authority. Be open to feedback about your skills and performance and address your weaknesses as needed with additional or continuing education or training.
  • Care Protocols – There should be protocols in place for each visit and each type of therapeutic activity, including planned responses to patient injuries or reported pain.
  • Observation of Patients – In addition to relying on patients to communicate about their own condition, it is important for you to carefully watch and note any changes in their appearance or behavior that would call for an adjustment to or cessation of treatment. This includes supervising patients or ensuring that they are being supervised closely throughout their therapy to ensure their safety.
  • Communication – Keep the lines of communication open with the patients themselves, their family members or other caregivers, physicians, etc. Be sure to report your concerns, patient or caregiver requests, and other observations as necessary.
  • Thorough Documentation – As part of your care protocols, you should be documenting all interactions with your patient, their caregivers and health care providers. Be sure to note all relevant aspects of their condition at the start of each treatment and at intervals throughout your visit. Keep records of patient progress, any refusal or inability to take part in the recommended treatment, and all details of any injuries or other unforeseen outcomes.

All of these routine precautions should help your patients stay safe and get the maximum benefit from their physical therapy.