The Impact of Pandemics on Physical Therapist Practice

Presenter: Sarah Thomas

Research Category: Health Sciences
College: Bouve College of Health Sciences
Major(s): Physical Therapy
Graduation Date: 2022
Additional Authors: Natalie Meidt, Courtney McKenzie, Sophia Cha

RATIONALE: Historically, pandemics have had an impact on physical therapist practice and patientsÕ access to services in the United States. This research report will examine the influence that past pandemics, including the Spanish flu and Poliomyelitis, had on the physical therapy profession and workforce. We will also examine the impact that the current COVID-19 pandemic has had on physical therapist practice and patients access to care.

METHODS: With the design being a research project, the method of obtaining the information involved an extensive search over six databases. Within each database, numerous combinations of words were used in the advanced search tool pertaining to the events surrounding physical therapy in past pandemics, the current COVID-19 global pandemic, and projected direction for the physical therapy profession. Additionally, information was gathered from the Physical Therapy Associations of both the United States and Canada.

STRENGTHS AND LIMITATIONS: Strengths of this project include a continuous emergence of literature examining physical therapy utilization, employment rates, and telehealth utilization during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this could also be considered a limitation due to the ongoing nature of the pandemic with constantly evolving information.  

CLINICAL RELEVANCE: The current COVID-19 pandemic has impacted utilization of services and physical therapist employment, including being furloughed or reassigned to non-physical therapy related roles. Recommendations for minimizing disruption of services, as well as optimizing physical therapistsÕ skills and knowledge in times of health crises in the event of future pandemics, will also be explored.