Physical therapy is a fractured profession without a dominant brand or identity — and that makes recognizing a quality PT practice a perplexing task.
How do you find the BEST PT practices when each one is “unique” and follows a different philosophy about movement and rehabilitation??
For instance, there are clinics that specialize in manual therapy, sports performance, modalities, Pilates, women’s health, functional medicine, data and technology, one-on-one treatment, group exercising, neurological rehab…the list goes on.
That’s only a fraction of examples.
On top of that, a clinic might accept insurance in-network, it might be out-of-nework with some or all insurance, or it could be a fully cash-based clinic…
All of these variations are confusing for clients and physical therapists alike — how are clients supposed to know who’s best to work with, and how do PTs know where they want to work?
People in the physical therapy profession are constantly trying to stand out from other centers, but this ends up further complicating the problem. Many folks already don’t understand PT, and it only gets more confusing with so many new variables.
So, back to the question: how do you recognize a quality PT practice from care you can get anywhere? In the cacophony of options and approaches, what are the bedrock qualities of an excellent PT practice?
Whether you’re looking for a clinic to work with, work at, or invest in, these are the top components you should see in a top-tier practice.
Low Physical Therapist to Client Ratio
A quality PT clinic is structured to provide direct, individualized, and focused care so every session has the most value.
The best PT clinics operate on a 1:1 ratio, meaning one PT works with only ONE client at a time. This structure allows the PT to provide undivided attention to their client to get a pinpoint diagnosis and ensure the rehab plan is executed flawlessly.
Movement is complex, and a trained, undistracted eye is invaluable.
I’ve seen clinics operate on a 1:4 ratio, and it’s as chaotic as it sounds. The higher the ratio, the lower the quality of care. Anytime you optimize for volume, you accept the consequence of lower quality.
Working with a 1:1 ratio ensures world class attention and quality of treatment, maximizing the client experience with every visit. A quality PT clinic will seem less busy, but it’ll be filled with more passion.
Physical Therapy Should be PHYSICAL
Physical therapy at its core foundation is about helping people improve the way they move to reduce pain and improve quality of life. “Physical” is literally the title of the profession.
Unfortunately, many PT clinics choose “passive treatments,” like ultrasound, electrical stimulation, ice, heat, or massage as the bulk of their treatment. There is no “physical” part of these treatments.
These modalities might feel good or provide a placebo effect for the client, where they feel better for that day…but, they are not long term solutions. These quick fixes only focus on treating the symptoms versus the root cause of the problem.
A quality PT clinic will have little to no modalities in their practice. Every intervention performed at a quality clinic will be specialized, and typically something clients can’t do by themselves at home. In a quality clinic, you’ll see clients off the table more than you will see them on the table.
This is not only more engaging for clients, but it provides the best opportunity to truly change someone’s movement — and therefore their life.
Whether your clients are looking to reduce their pain or optimize their performance, to retrain their movement patterns, they need feedback.
There are entire classes in PT school about providing effective feedback, because it’s VITAL to the PT experience.
Since most people are visual learners, having visual feedback is essential. This could range anywhere from mirrors, video, or even graphs of EMG muscle activation.
When clients can SEE their movement, both good and bad, they have an accessible understanding of their current performance that they can work from. Visual feedback also provides a concrete awareness of the problem or goal, which ultimately translates to better outcomes.
And it doesn’t have to be exclusive to just one method. A quality PT clinic has many forms of visual biofeedback.
Exceptional PT clinics have feedback for things that you can’t see without technology. This would include sensors to track joint angles for movement assessment and training, force plates to track jumping and landing forces, and EMG feedback to track muscle activation and intensity of contraction.
Each of these pieces is vital for retraining movement, and quality PT clinics invest in this technology to drive better outcomes and experience.
Warm, Friendly, and Passionate Staff
The final piece of a quality PT clinic encompasses the people who operate them.
Physical therapy can be challenging. It can leave muscles feeling sore, and it isn’t the most sexy or exciting experience. Most clients don’t dream of going to physical therapy.
Therefore, it is essential to have administrative and PT staff who are energetic, passionate, encouraging, uplifting, and focused on creating the best possible experience for every client.
You will know right when you walk in the door if a PT clinic invests in hiring the best people. They will know your name, remember personal details about your last visit, be as focused on your goals as you are, and welcome you with a smile and questions about YOU, and not your injury.
It may seem simple, but it makes all the difference in the world in quality PT clinics.
Although the PT profession is fractured and confusing, these bedrock qualities differentiate the BEST practices from those you should avoid.