Physical therapy in the emergency department: A new opportunity for collaborative care

Am J Emerg Med. 2018 Aug;36(8):1492-1496. doi: 10.1016/j.ajem.2018.05.053. Epub 2018 May 24.


Emergency department-initiated physical therapy (ED PT) is an emerging resource in the United States, with the number of ED PT programs in the United States growing rapidly over the last decade. In this collaborative model of care, physical therapists are consulted by the treating ED physician to assist in the evaluation and treatment of a number of movement and functional disorders, such as low back pain, peripheral vertigo, and various gait disturbances. Patients receiving ED PT benefit from the physical therapist's expertise in musculoskeletal and vestibular conditions and from the individualized attention provided in a typical bedside evaluation and treatment session, which includes education on expected symptom trajectory, recommendations for activity modulation, and facilitated outpatient follow-up. Early data suggest that both physicians and patients view ED PT services favorably, and that ED PT is associated with improvement of several important clinical and operational outcomes. Hospital systems interested in building their own ED PT program may benefit from the key steps outlined in this review, as well as a summary of the typical clinical volumes and practice patterns encountered at existing programs around the country.

Keywords: Musculoskeletal; Older adults; Physical therapy; Vestibular.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Humans
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / therapy*
  • Physical Therapy Specialty*
  • Program Evaluation
  • Referral and Consultation
  • United States
  • Vestibular Diseases / therapy*