Sometimes it can be challenging to find a health professional to help you when you need one. Is there someone located close to home or work? Are they regulated? Do they have a valid practice permit? Do they have any additional qualifications? What’s their complaint history? The goal of this article is to provide you with some context and information to aide you in navigating the world of referrals, social media, word of mouth and advertising, helping you to find a physiotherapist to help you on your health-care journey!
How do you figure out which physiotherapist will provide you with the care you need?
Our role at the College of Physiotherapists of Alberta is to:
- Register qualified, competent physiotherapists
- Set and enforce expectations of professional conduct, competence, and Standards of Practice
- Respond to complaints regarding the professional practice of regulated physiotherapists
While we cannot direct you to a specific physiotherapist, we can provide you with tips and tools to help you identify a physiotherapist who might be a good fit for you and your needs. All physiotherapists must be registered with the College to practice physiotherapy in Alberta, if they are not registered with us, they are not allowed to practice physiotherapy in Alberta. You can use the Verify a Physiotherapist tab on our website to check a physiotherapist’s practice history in Alberta, any outstanding conduct matters, and any restricted activities they are authorized to perform.
Using Verify a Physiotherapist
When you utilize this resource, you can search a specific physiotherapist by name and verify they are registered with the college. If you don’t have a specific person’s name to check, you can use the tool to search for a physiotherapist near your home or place of work by entering the postal code (Tip: If using your postal code doesn’t give you enough results, try searching just the first three characters of your postal code instead). You can also search by facility name. This can be your first stop alongside a search engine like Google to get an idea of who is offering physiotherapy services near you.
As mentioned above, the Verify a Physiotherapist tool allows you to look at location to help make your decision, or at least narrow down your choices. Since time is a valuable resource, you may not want to travel across town for your appointment during your busy day. When it comes to time and lifestyle, you may want to look for a physiotherapist that offers virtual appointments, where you can be assessed from your office or the comfort of your home.
What do you need from your physiotherapist?
The second part of your search should include the most important part of this team…YOU! So, let’s take a moment to talk about how you fit into this equation. Take a look at yourself in the proverbial mirror and ask yourself what you want out of physiotherapy. Do you need a specific type of physiotherapist for your injury? Just like physicians, physiotherapists treat a multitude of injuries and conditions. Some have a keen interest in certain treatments, injuries and/or conditions and have pursued extra training and designated specializations.
Some physiotherapists will have “Authorized Activities” listed in their Verify a Physiotherapist record. These are restricted activities that the physiotherapist must have additional education and authorization to perform. If you are looking for a physiotherapist that has authorization to use needles in practice or perform spinal manipulation, you will be able to see if any of the physiotherapists practicing near you have authorization in one of these activities.
During your search, you may notice that a few physiotherapists have a specialization listed under “Clinical Specialist”. Beyond having an interest in working with a specific population group, to receive this designation the physiotherapist must complete the Physiotherapy Specialty Certification Board of Canada or American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties program. These programs include specific requirements regarding the physiotherapist’s experience, involvement in research and continuing professional development. For example, a physiotherapist may earn a clinical specialization to work with seniors, people with neurological conditions like Multiple Sclerosis or Stroke, or people with pelvic health concerns.
Although you can’t search by authorized activities or clinical specializations in the Verify a Physiotherapist tool, the information is available in the physiotherapist’s record, helping you to narrow your search if you need someone with these specific skills.
Referrals and advertising, what can you trust?
Should you trust Google reviews or websites with patient testimonials? How about your doctor or friend that recommended a physiotherapist to you? Let’s break down the reliability of each and help you navigate through your choices.
Doctor referrals: Often, a major source of trusted information is your family physician. They usually know a clinic or a physiotherapist who they have dealt with in the past and have some sort of ongoing relationship with. Your doctor may have never set foot in the clinic but may have heard positive reviews from their patients. Physiotherapists are direct access providers, so you do not need a referral from your doctor to attend physiotherapy. However, some insurance providers may ask for a referral before they will cover the cost of physiotherapy. This is solely at the discretion of your insurance provider, so please take the time to find this information out prior to booking your appointment.
Word of mouth: Generally, your mom, friend, cousin, etc. have nothing to gain from pumping your physiotherapist’s tires so they should be unbiased in their opinion. What works for them may not work for you, but if they found a physiotherapist who was patient, listened well and took the time to explain things, you should be in good hands.
Social Media, Google, and other websites: Some things to focus on with each website include:
- The team: Most websites will allow you to peruse the physiotherapists working at a location. You can try to find someone that indicates they have focused on a specific area of practice or uses treatment techniques that you have had success with in the past. Maybe they participate in the same activities, or you share similar cultural identities that will make the initial visit less stressful.
- The services: Most websites will list services they provide and/or conditions they treat so you can search these lists for what you might be looking for. They will also indicate whether they can bill for a workplace injury or for motor vehicle collisions as well as if they can direct bill your extended health benefits.
- Pricing: Some websites will have pricing available. If not, you can always phone the clinic to ask what an assessment and follow-up treatments will cost.
- Online booking: If they offer this option, it might be worthwhile to look at as you may be able to see how easy it is to schedule an appointment what their hours of service are. You may also be able to tell how much time they book for a new assessment or treatment. If the information cannot be found, you can always phone the clinic and ask.
- The details: Clinic location, phone number, email etc. are all great to obtain so you can find the basic information you need to make your appointment on time and get directions.
Online reviews and advertising: We are in the age of online reviews. We review everything from the food we eat to the shows we watch, and even the medical professionals we interact with. Some clinics may prompt you for reviews or you may decide to leave one without them asking. Unfortunately, it has been reported that online reviews are not always credible.1
These are different from “Word of Mouth” as they aren’t always coming from a trusted source like a family member. You cannot rely on these alone to make your decision, so take these in context with all of the other information you have gathered. In the end, advertising is just a way to get you in the door. Hopefully, once you walk through that door, the physiotherapist can provide you with some substance under that flash.
Is your physiotherapist a good fit?
What if you take all this time to find someone that you thought would be a good fit and you aren’t quite satisfied with your appointment? Giving the physiotherapist a few sessions to get to know you and your injury and figure out the ideal course of treatment is best. They are just getting to know you, your injury or condition, and it takes time to develop trust and rapport.
If you find you aren’t improving as expected after the first few sessions and there are no apparent changes to your treatment plan, it might be good to bring this up. If you feel you aren’t being heard, or you just don’t seem to be getting along, you can always go see someone else. Even in the same clinic, physiotherapists shouldn’t be bothered that you decided to move on. It is your right and the physiotherapist, or the clinic doesn’t “own” you as a patient. They might even follow-up looking for feedback and I would encourage you to give it. We can’t improve if we have no idea why you didn’t come back and generally, professionals want to improve.