Physical therapy and animals
The idea that animals could benefit from physical therapy did not become a reality until the 1960s when equine sporting events
became popular and there was an increasing number of injured horses. Interest in veterinary rehabilitation continued to grow
in the United States, fueled by demand from Baby Boomers who had seen the benefits of physical therapy for their own injuries
and aging joints.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) added "veterinary physical therapy" to its guidelines in 1996. There are
now 17 U.S. veterinary colleges that offer canine rehabilitation, and several are planning to add student electives and clinical
rotations. In 2010, the AVMA recognized the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation as a new specialty
organization. Guidelines for residency and training will be available soon.
Three veterinary rehabilitation certification programs exist in the United States—two canine and one equine. The basic requirements
are similar—about 15 classroom days with exams, reports and internship opportunities rounding out the curriculum.
The veterinarian-physical therapist partnership
Veterinary rehabilitation can be profitable—even in challenging economic times—if you do your homework and create a viable
business plan. Take a look at your budget, space and location. Consider staffing requirements, including the need for certified
rehabilitation therapists. Think about what equipment you will need and how will you pay for it. Also consider what you think
the demand will be for rehabilitation services from your existing clients and how will you attract new clients.
Let's say that all of your planning has paid off, and you have reached the point where you have a trained and committed staff
and state-of-the-art equipment. Your client base is growing, but now there are other practices in the area starting to offer
rehabilitation services. How do you maintain your competitive edge? One answer is to add a physical therapist.
To start, investigate the veterinary and physical therapy practice acts in your state. Ultimately, they have the final say
in what kind of relationship a veterinarian can have with a physical therapist. Also check your practice's liability insurance
to determine what coverage a physical therapist should have to protect all parties. Before you consider adding any candidate
to your rehabilitation team, make sure he or she is licensed as a physical therapist and is either certified or pursuing certification
in veterinary rehabilitation.
There are a number of ways—some traditional and some creative—to incorporate a physical therapist in your rehabilitation practice.
Employment. You have the space and demand for rehabilitation services to justify adding a physical therapist to your staff on a full-time,
part-time or hourly basis—either salaried or paid on commission or on production.
Contract employment. You want to add a physical therapist to your team but are not in a position to add staff. The physical therapist could be
reimbursed strictly based on services provided, with your practice being responsible for management and expenses.
Consultant. Your rehabilitation practice is doing well, but you are still not ready to add another employee. You have challenging and
unusual cases, and there are times when you would like to have another professional see these patients. A physical therapist
acting as a consultant could perform evaluations at your practice and make recommendations for further interventions.
Referral. You want to maintain management of a particular case but think that a second opinion would be worthwhile. There is a physical
therapist in your area (or even farther away) that you know and trust, and you recommend that your clients take their pets
directly to this person for a consultation, state laws permitting.
Sublease. You are contacted by a physical therapist who has an existing practice—most likely home-based or using a home health model—and
is interested in subletting space, equipment and maybe even your support staff. This arrangement has the potential to be beneficial
for both parties.
We hope you now have a better idea of what physical therapy is all about and why you should consider adding rehabilitation
to your practice. Now, for an APTA-approved version of that earlier conversation on the golf course:
DAVE: Amie's a physical therapist, right?
TOM: Yeah. She's been practicing for more than 10 years now. She has an advanced degree in physical therapy and is certified
as a canine rehabilitation therapist.
DAVE: Wow, that's impressive. I have barely been able to make it through 18 holes of golf this summer because my back hurts
so much. I'll bet Amie could help me. And my dog's been limping. Could she take a look at him, too?
Lamoreaux Hesbach is the president of the Animal Rehabilitation Special Interest Group. Dr. Van Dyke is the founder and CEO of the Canine Rehabilitation Institute in Wellington, Fla., with locations in Fort Collins, Colo.,
and Annapolis Junction, Md.