OncoPT & the Emergency Department – How They Actually Work Together

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OncoPTs can serve in any setting to help patients diagnosed with cancer, including…the emergency department?

Yep, especially the emergency department.

Dr. Rebekah Griffith is a highly experienced physical therapist specializing in emergency medicine. She’s been working in the emergency department (ED) for almost a decade, where she has played a vital role in the early management and treatment of patients with a wide range of medical and musculoskeletal conditions. Her expertise in acute care physical therapy has helped to reduce pain and disability, prevent further injury, and improve functional outcomes for emergency patients, even those with a cancer diagnosis

In today’s episode, I picked her brain on how OncoPT & the emergency department are so interwoven, plus how her quality improvement initiatives can be used to advocate for the inclusion of physical therapists for all oncology patients, including those in the emergency department.  

Even if you’re an outpatient OncoPT, this episode is a must-listen, because Rebekah explained a lot of behind the scenes stuff that we need to know when working with our highly medically dynamic patient population.

Listen now!

Physical therapists play a critical role in the emergency department

Physical therapists play a crucial role in the emergency department (ED) by providing early and efficient evaluation, management, and treatment of patients with acute musculoskeletal injuries, neurologic disorders, and complex medical conditions. They work closely with emergency physicians and other healthcare professionals to provide timely and appropriate care, reduce pain and disability, prevent further injury, and improve functional outcomes. 

PTs may perform musculoskeletal and neurological assessments, provide pain management interventions, implement early mobilization and rehabilitation protocols, and provide patient education and follow-up care to optimize recovery and prevent complications. 

PTs can also speed up the discharge process by identifying most appropriate discharge locations.  

There are still some major misconceptions about PTs in the emergency department.

One common misconception about physical therapists (PTs) in the emergency department is that their role is limited to musculoskeletal injuries and rehabilitation. While PTs are highly skilled in evaluating and treating musculoskeletal conditions, you are also trained to manage patients with a wide range of medical conditions, including neurological emergencies, cardiopulmonary disorders, and oncologic emergencies. 

Another misconception is that PTs are only consulted after the acute phase of care is over, and that your role is not essential in the early management of emergency patients. In reality, early involvement of PTs in the ED can help to reduce pain, prevent further injury, and improve functional outcomes. 

Additionally, some may think that PTs are only involved in providing hands-on treatment, and do not play a role in coordinating care or educating patients and families. In fact, PTs in the ED work closely with the interdisciplinary team to develop and implement care plans, provide patient education, and facilitate transitions of care.

Another misconception is that the inclusion of a PT evaluation will slow down care in the emergency department.  In Rebekah’s quality improvement initiative, she found that PT did NOT slow down care & in fact contributed to higher patient satisfaction with the emergency department as a whole.

OncoPT is absolutely involved in the emergency department

Waitlists for cancer rehab & lymphedema treatment programs are astronomical these days.  This means that patients are not able to get timely care for their impairments.  For many patients with lymphedema, cellulitis is a major concern & are already at an increased infection risk.  It is very likely patients could develop cellulitis & present to the emergency department for treatment.

Another aspect of OncoPT in the emergency department is hospice/transition planning.  Rebekah sees many patients with advanced cancers who are experiencing declining function, hence their visit to the ED.  Rebekah is thus having conversations with patients about what they need to discharge safely, how she can best support their family or caregivers to thus care for the patients, & coordinating discharge services.

Rebekah’s new book all about ED PT is out now!

Rebekah’s new book, Top of Scope: The Emergency Department Physical Therapist Practice Handbook, is published & now available from Amazon!  You definitely want to check this out, especially if you’re considering working in the hospital.

In conclusion, PTs are highly valuable members of the emergency department healthcare team & will likely encounter patients with cancer.  PTs can help screen oncology patients for musculoskeletal conditions, evaluate & treat a wide range of conditions, & help improve overall outcomes for emergency department patients.  By providing early and efficient assessment, management, and treatment, we can reduce pain and disability, prevent further injury, and improve functional outcomes. Moreover, our involvement in the care of emergency patients can help to optimize resource utilization, reduce healthcare costs, and enhance patient satisfaction. 

As the demand for emergency care continues to grow, the role of physical therapists in the ED is likely to become even more essential in the years to come.

Until next time, this is Elise with TheOncoPT. And remember you are exactly the physical therapist that your patients with cancer need. So let’s get to work.

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