As health care practitioners, physical therapists (PTs) and physical therapy assistants (PTAs) are in the business of serving patients to meet their functional goals. Standardized objective measures are used to set benchmarks for progress, and plans of care based on the highest levels of evidence available are executed to produce successful outcomes. The art of what we do however isn't always well documented, and its value to the success of patient outcomes is beyond measure.
The therapist-patient relationship is an important part of physical therapy care that can influence patient outcomes.1 Building rapport with patients and their caregivers from minute one provides a solid base from which to work off. A successful relationship between a patient and a PT or PTA is built on trust, empathy, active listening, comfort, and respect. When working with people affected by cancer, HIV, or other chronic illness, this relationship may extend past the initial plan of care, providing continuous support over time. It is a vital component to what PTs and PTAs do that can elevate patient engagement, program compliance, and continued participation in community health and wellness programs.
The benefits of the therapeutic relationship are mutual. Many people who pursue a career in health care are motivated by their desire to help people. To love what you do and do what you love with positive returns can be no greater feeling at the end of the day. As time with patients becomes more and more limited, the connection made with patients can be harder to achieve, decreasing the potential in outcomes and experience for all involved. As the business of health care evolves, quantity over quality continues to be a theme, resulting in less time with patients.
How do we quantify the therapeutic relationship? How can we demonstrate its value so that we can create the space needed to maintain its presence in our clinics? Time has proven to be the most valuable commodity over the last few years. In my experience, PTs and PTAs have always made the most of their time given with patients to provide exceptional care regardless of constraints created by financial limitations. As a profession, we need to forge a path of advocacy so that all recognize the value this partnership brings to the therapeutic experience and clinically significant change for patients.
Laura Sheridan, PT, DPT, CLT
1. Hall A, Ferreira PH, Maher CG, Latimer J, Ferreira ML. The influence of the therapist-patient relationship on treatment outcome in physical rehabilitation: a systematic review. Phys Ther. 2010;90(8):1099–1110.