3 Benefits of Acute Care Physical Therapy
Acute health issues, the sudden and serious onset of medical conditions or injuries, can be overwhelming.
And it likely means that you will be working with a team of medical specialists in a hospital, emergency room, intensive care unit, long-term acute care or skilled nursing facility. Physical therapists (PT) who specialize in acute care are important members of that team.
Acutely ill patients can experience complications caused by hospitalization, including weakness and mobility issues. Early treatment by a PT can help eliminate or minimize these complications, by helping to optimize your mobility and strength during and after your stay.
Here are some of the benefits of working with an acute care physical therapist:
1. Prevention of decline with early mobility
PTs are movement experts who work collaboratively with medical teams to ensure safe movement and mobility. Research has shown patients in the hospital are not nearly as active as they are at home, spending 93% to 98% of the time in bed, and walking less than 1,000 steps a day. Early mobility during the hospital stay has been shown to lead to numerous positive effects, such as prevention of pneumonia and blood clots.
PTs can teach patients how to move safely in all areas of the hospital, including the intensive care unit. Patients in the intensive care unit who receive skilled physical therapist treatment report being more independent with activities, such as rolling in bed, standing, and walking.
2. PT-prescribed exercise programs improve outcomes and decrease hospital stays
Whether you are recovering from a fracture or surgery, or dealing with weakness from a stroke or other condition, your PT will perform an evaluation to create an individualized plan to improve your strength and physical function to help you safely become independent and decrease your time spent in the hospital. Your PT will also educate you and your caregiver on strategies to manage your physical activity after you leave the hospital. Research has shown that if you follow your PT treatment plan, you may decrease your time in the hospital and chances of being readmitted.
3. Safe discharge planning
PTs play a significant role in discharge planning. A PT will screen for continued therapy services after hospital discharge and recommend an appropriate therapy setting to meet your needs. Your PT will also help educate your caregivers on how to exercise and move safely at home, and provide training on the use of mobility equipment like walkers, crutches, and canes to encourage independence. Studies have shown when a PT's recommendations were not followed, patients were 2.9 times more likely to be readmitted to the hospital.
If you or a loved one is admitted to the hospital for an acute injury or illness, speak with your medical team to ensure a PT is part of your treatment during your hospital stay.
Baldwin C, van Kessel G, Phillips A, Johnston K. Accelerometry shows inpatients with acute medical or surgical conditions spend little time upright and are highly sedentary: systematic review. Phys Ther. 2017;97(11):1044–1065. Article Summary in PubMed.
Ramos Dos Santos PM, Aquaroni Ricci N, Aparecida Bordignon Suster E, de Moraes Paisani D, Dias Chiavegato L. Effects of early mobilisation in patients after cardiac surgery: a systematic review. Physiotherapy. 2017;103:1–12. Article Summary in PubMed.
Falvey JR, Burke RE, Malone D, Ridgeway KJ, McManus BM, Stevens-Lapsley JE. Role of physical therapists in reducing hospital readmissions: optimizing outcomes for older adults during care transitions from hospital to community. Phys Ther. 2016;96(8):1125–1134. Free Article.
Smith BA, Fields CJ, Fernandez N. Physical therapists make accurate and appropriate discharge recommendations for patients who are acutely ill. Phys Ther. 2010;90(5):693–703. Free Article.
Needham DM, Korupolu R, Zanni JM, et al. Early physical medicine and rehabilitation for patients with acute respiratory failure: a quality improvement project. Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 2010;91(4):536–542. Article Summary in PubMed.
Authored by Julie Terrell, PT, DPT; Traci Norris PT, DPT, board-certified geriatric clinical specialist; and Ann Fick, PT, DPT, board-certified cardiovascular and pulmonary clinical specialist.