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Background and Purpose. Acute care physical therapists have experienced the effects of dramatic changes in health care reimbursement systems and population demographics. Acute care hospitals now serve a patient population of much older, chronically ill patients who are hospitalized for shorter periods of time in a practice environment in which physical therapy staffing resources are often inadequate. The purposes of this study were to document common experiences in the practice of acute care physical therapy and to identify differences in the perceptions of physical therapists with varying levels of experience and in various sizes of acute care facilities.

Subjects and Methods. A survey questionnaire was mailed to 500 randomly selected physical therapists employed in acute care facilities. The therapists answered questions regarding the frequency of various physical therapy evaluation and treatment practices, problems encountered in delivering physical therapy services, coordination of the discharge planning process, and perceptions of staffing trends in the acute care setting. The responses of 188 physical therapists who completed the survey were compared by their experience levels and the size of the institutions in which they practiced.

Results. Subjects reported that patient factors, such as medical complications and cooperation; organizational factors, such as staffing shortages and large caseloads; and health care system constraints, such as difficulty changing orders and limited time in which to work with the patient interfered with patients reaching physical therapy goals.

Conclusion and Discussion. Inadequate skills for successful acute care practice and maladaptive therapist beliefs about acute care career possibilities may adversely affect physical therapist career longevity in the acute care setting.


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Copyright © 2010 American Physical Therapy Association. Printed with permission. All rights reserved.