Prevention and Wellness: An Overlooked Opportunity?

As a middle-aged woman, I begrudgingly schedule several annual visits with my doctor for wellness checks and preventative screens. Despite dreading those annual appointments, I realize it is important for my overall health and making certain all is well, so I’m around to see my daughter grow and prosper. The one appointment I actually look forward to is my physical fitness test.

Granted, I don’t schedule a visit with my local therapist since I am already a licensed physical therapist, but I do set aside time every year to reassess my strength, balance, coordination, weight, nutrition, and exercise regimen. I evaluate whether I’ve lost any function, gained any weight, become stagnant with my workout routine, and most importantly, met my goals established the prior year. Yes, I only weigh myself once a year. I can still leap on one leg with my eyes closed (without falling). And I’m happy to say my bilateral grip strength remains in the 95lb range.

Physical therapy services to promote health, wellness and fitness are considered within the scope of practice for physical therapy whether or not the state in which you are providing or plan to provide services has specific language addressing health promotion. Occupational therapy services provide for “habilitation, rehabilitation, and promotion of health and wellness for clients with disability and non-disability related needs” per the OT scope of practice. Speech-language pathology scope of practice also describes prevention and education “across the life span from infancy through geriatrics.”

We all know that maintaining or improving physical fitness and performance can improve health outcomes, reduce obesity, reduce stress, and allow for various other health benefits. As therapists, we are the experts in the field of health and wellness, yet we typically forget to promote that part of our business or drastically overlook it. Therapists are developing more performance-enhancement programs for athletes, concussion prevention and fall prevention programs for the elderly. What about the average, middle-aged Joe and Josephine? Will they be successful blindly joining the local gym or purchasing a Fitbit? Do we wait until they have an injury before we talk to them about prevention?

Part of my responsibility as a healthcare practitioner is promoting health and wellness. I strive to lead by example and encourage all patients, family members, friends and neighbors to visit their local therapist for annual checkups. How many falls, rotator cuff tears, back surgeries, aspiration pneumonias can we prevent by scheduling therapy-specific annual visits for ourselves, our family members, our past patients and all those in between? Can you imagine how healthcare expenditures would drastically reduce if therapists provided more wellness checks?

The next time you see a friend, family member or patient, make time to talk about wellness and prevention. They will be better for it!

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