Evidence-Based Practice In Physical Therapy

Physical therapists want to make well-informed clinical decisions. That’s why many are turning to evidence-based practice.

The concept behind evidence-based practice is to create a comprehensive knowledge base that improves patient treatment outcomes.

Evidence-based practice requires a three-fold approach, according to the American Physical Therapy Association:

  • evidence-based resources
  • the physical therapist’s unique knowledge, skills, and training
  • the patient’s wants, needs, and values

Following this approach, physical therapists use their skills as a basis and identify any gaps in knowledge. To fill gaps, they may seek further research and apply literature to the patient’s problem while acknowledging the patient’s values.

By integrating the best-available evidence into practice, physical therapists can improve client and practice management, as well as health policy decision-making.

Why Physical Therapists Use an Evidence-Based Approach

Evidence-based practice has emerged as physical therapy shifts from belief-based interventions to relying more on evidence. The growth in evidence-based physical therapy comes as research and technology within the field progresses. However, the developments have been a long time coming as the American Physical Therapy Association adopted “Vision 2020” early in this millennium to guide the path forward for the physical therapy profession. The vision included goals that physical therapy leaders hoped to achieve by 2020 including evidence-based practice, direct access, professionalism, doctoring profession, autonomous practice, and practitioner of choice.

In evidence-based physical therapy practice, assumptions and biases are pushed aside to make way for the importance of research and data, clinical expertise, and patient values. Beliefs are not unjustified, but should correlate with evidence to enhance quality of patient care. 

The approach allows physical therapists to translate research findings into clinical practice. Furthermore, evidence-based practice helps them to:

  • plan and evaluate care
  • stay up-to-date on medical research and procedures
  • improve the decision-making process
  • better analyze and measure outcomes
  • have a thorough understanding of the risks of medications
  • give patients a greater role in the planning of their care
  • create individualized care plans for patients

Evidence-based physical therapy practice requires a willingness to challenge assumptions, the ability to identify relevant details about a patient, access to evidence, knowledge of how to assess evidence, and the time to implement the strategies. 

Taking the Steps to Follow Evidence-Based Practice in Physical Therapy

Here are the steps physical therapists may take that follow evidence-based principles:

1. Identify the clinical problem or question: Physical therapists start by collecting information about the patient.

2. Gather evidence: Physical therapists gather evidence to investigate the potential causes for the patient’s condition.

3. Analyze the evidence: Delve into the information relating to the patient’s case and consider what is most useful.

4. Apply findings to clinical practice: Physical therapists provide care considering patients’ unique physiology, values, and circumstances.

5. Assess the effectiveness: Evaluate the result with the goal of improving treatment plans.

Advancing Evidence-Based Physical Therapy Practice

Join a diverse group of aspiring physical therapists in Carlow’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program. In this program, you will become proficient in using evidence-informed practice principles and clinical skills. This doctorate degree program also prepares you to become well-versed in seeing beyond the patient’s impairment and how their life circumstances can impact their recovery.

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