First off, I love when patients ask questions. Not because I want to flex my metaphorical brain muscle and show them how smart I am, but because I want them to understand why they’re coming in, why their home program is important, and why they’re doing whatever it is I have them doing. I encourage everyone, from their initial evaluation to the day they walk out the door at discharge, to be open with me and ask whatever question pops into their heads. I even ask them to give me a call or shoot me an email if something comes up after they leave my care. Some of these questions have been thought-provoking, requiring me to reference whatever literature I had on hand before I could even hazard a guess, while others were off-the-wall and some left me silently shaking my head in bewilderment.
Earlier this month, a patient asked me a series of questions I’d never been asked before. “Why should you be my therapist? What are your qualifications? Can you give me the best rehab available?” I was surprised, not because I didn’t have the answers, but because this is rare to see in a tribal clinic. Tribal citizens, in general, don’t have dozens of options for where they receive their healthcare or from whom they receive treatment. Unless they have health insurance or are willing to make the drive to the next closest tribal health center, they see who is available. They don’t “shop” around for the best physical therapist in the area or peruse the internet for provider reviews. Instead, they are referred the closest facility that offers physical therapy services or to the facility that has a contract with that specific tribe.
This system isn’t bad, by any means, and provides patients with the healthcare they need. However, it becomes frustrating if they feel they are receiving inadequate care, aren’t progressing towards their goals, don’t feel they have a choice in their care, or are “just going through the motions” because it’s the next service their doctor suggested. I don’t want to be some therapist in some clinic that you had to see that one time because your doctor told you to, or because we were the only clinic in the area and you needed to see someone/anyone. I want to the be physical therapist you CHOOSE to see. I want to be the physical therapist that makes you tell your surgeon or provider “I have someone in the tribal clinic I’d rather see,” even if they give the option of go elsewhere.
In the end, I answered her questions as honestly as possible. I informed her that YES I was qualified, YES I was experienced in orthopedic rehabilitation, and YES I would give her a high quality experience. After our discussion, she chose to remain a patient at our clinic and has been improving every day. We’re in this field for the patients. We should offer each and every patient our best and strive to provide a high standard of care. Then, when they need to have physical therapy in the future, we won’t be the only option they have, we’ll be the ones they CHOOSE to see.
– Zach Huff, DPT, PT