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Changing Perspectives on Diagnostic Imaging in Physical Therapy Education

The Traditional Model

Physical therapy has gradually evolved into a profession with specialized areas of practice, including primary care, which requires considerable expertise in musculoskeletal evaluation. In response, the professional education of physical therapists in the United States has undergone many changes in recent decades.

Until recently, most physical therapy education programs contained very little, if any, curricular content related to diagnostic imaging. In the past, the exclusion of diagnostic imaging education was perhaps based on an assumption that because physical therapists do not make medical diagnoses, the study of diagnostic imaging added little to the expertise of physical therapists as rehabilitation specialists. The prevailing perception was that diagnostic imaging was not useful in daily physical therapy practice. The value of integrating diagnostic imaging information into the physical therapy evaluation was not recognized or explored. Rather, the absence of diagnostic imaging instruction from physical therapy curricula appeared to reflect the traditional model of medicine as well as the physical therapist's restricted scope of practice.

An Evolving Model

In recent decades the response of the physical therapy profession to modern patient needs has resulted in an expanded professional identity and higher professional standards. These developments have been and continue to be the catalyst for legislative changes relating to state practice acts. Laws permitting clients direct access to physical therapy have been enacted in 47 states in the United States, as well as in the District of Columbia (Table 18-1).1 This political shift has altered the way many physical therapists practice. Physical therapists, now more than ever, may be the first health-care professionals patients encounter. The potential for the physical therapist to be a primary care provider is one significant factor that has changed the profession's perception of the importance of diagnostic imaging in the education of physical therapists. As a result, diagnostic imaging is now an integral component of many physical therapy education programs.

TABLE 18-1Source:States Allowing Physical Therapists Direct Access to Patients, as of May 2012

The current physical therapy model of practice is defined by documents put forth by the principal professional and educational accreditation organization of physical therapists, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). ...

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