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Physician Update – August 2022

2 Annual Checkups Are Better Than 1

Let’s Work Together to Save Patient Lives

Several years ago, a physical therapist in Iowa discovered something during a routine exam that just might have saved his patient’s life.

The patient, an older woman, was experiencing pain near her armpit. According to the clinic, she thought it was a pinched nerve or pulled muscle when she scheduled her appointment. But when the therapist examined her, he discovered something else —
symptoms so concerning that he referred her to the hospital.

There, physicians found the patient didn’t have a pinched nerve. She had breast cancer. In 2019, after 16 rounds of chemotherapy, she finally went home cancer-free. It’s possible that without the early detection by her PT, her story wouldn’t have had such a happy ending.

When I first read about this patient’s experience, it reminded me of the importance of physical therapy exams, both before treatment for specific issues and on an annual basis. Ideally, patients will visit their general practitioner or physician annually for a physical examination — but as you know, many don’t make that appointment. Even for those who
do, two sets of experienced doctors’ eyes are better than one. Annual examinations by both physicians and physical therapists work together to promote the best health outcomes for patients. I think if physicians all realized this, we’d see many more patients for annual PT visits.

What does an annual PT visit entail?

Every PT clinic has its own process for screenings and examinations, which vary depending on the patient’s age. However, most annual visits include the same basic items recommended by the American Physical Therapy Association. The patient shares their health history; the patient and PT discuss their current health habits (exercise, sleep, nutrition, etc.); and concerns, and the PT conducts both physical and physical performance examinations.

The latter includes tests of strength, balance, mobility, and more. This is a step beyond a typical physician’s examination and can be extremely revealing. At the end of the exam, the PT notes areas where the patient is at risk and makes necessary referrals.

Why should you recommend an annual PT visit to patients?

The American Physical Therapy Association explains this best: “Physical therapists have the education, experience, and expertise necessary to provide a broad health screening to allow tracking the patient’s health status over time. [An annual visit] also may lead to a referral for a physical therapist evaluation and treatment plan or to another health
care professional for potential problems identified during the visit.”

The latter part of that explanation is crucial, and it’s the component that led to lifesaving treatment for the patient in Iowa. Breast cancer isn’t the only illness physical therapists have sounded the alarm about for patients. Another documented case features a 79-year old female patient who visited her PT for cervical stenosis treatment.

During the process, the PT “identified a mole with suspicious characteristics, using the ABCD checklist for skin cancer screening.” The PT referred the patient to their primary care physician, who discovered the mole was a basal cell carcinoma. Fortunately, “[E]arly
detection of this lesion allowed for complete excision, with no further
treatment of the area warranted.”

Again, a PT saved their patient pain, trauma, and heartbreak.

2019 focuspt headshot julian

Julian Manrique

Focus Physical Therapy

"We Help Adults Get Back To Their Normal Active Lifestyles Naturally...While Avoiding Medications, Injections, And Surgeries"