Emergency department (ED) use in the United States is expected to rapidly increase. Nearly half of all ED visits are classified as semiurgent or nonurgent, and many fall into the musculoskeletal category. Despite growing international evidence that patients are appropriately and safely managed by ED physical therapists in a time-efficient manner, physical therapist practice in EDs is not widely understood or utilized in the United States. To date, no studies have reported the impressions of ED physicians about this practice.Objectives
The purposes of this study were: (1) to assess ED physicians' impressions of ED physical therapist practice 2 years after practice was initiated and (2) to determine whether physicians' impressions changed 7 years later.Methods
All ED staff physicians and medical residents at a level I trauma hospital were invited to complete a survey in 2004 and 2011.Results
In both years, a majority of physicians reported favorable impressions of ED physical therapist practice. Physical therapists were valued for educating patients about safety and injury prevention, providing appropriate gait training, assisting with disposition planning, and providing interventions as alternatives to pain medication. Many physicians supported standing physical therapist orders for certain musculoskeletal conditions. The most common concern was the additional time that patients spend in the ED for a physical therapist consult.Limitations
The results of this study may not reflect the impressions of physicians in all EDs that employ physical therapists.Conclusions
Emergency department physicians reported favorable impressions of ED physical therapist practice 2 years and 9 years following its implementation in this hospital. This study showed that ED physicians support standing physical therapist orders for certain musculoskeletal conditions, which suggests that direct triage to ED physical therapists for these conditions could be considered.