Consumer Information

What You Should Know About Physical Therapy Professionals and Their Services


What is a physical therapist? A physical therapist assistant?

A physical therapist is a licensed health care professional who examines and evaluates a patient's condition and then plans and administers treatments to promote optimal health. Physical therapists seek to relieve pain, improve the body's movement and function, maintain cardiopulmonary function, restore, maintain and promote optimal physical function; and limit disabilities resulting from injury or disease.

A physical therapist assistant is a licensed health care professional who provides treatment according to a plan developed by and under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist.

What credentials does a New York physical therapist have? A physical therapist assistant?

A New York physical therapist has completed an approved four-to-six-year college program in physical therapy, including studies in biology, basic medical sciences, and clinical experience. Studies focus on the evaluation and treatment of the heart, lungs, muscles, bones, and the nervous system. In addition, New York physical therapists have passed a national written examination and met all criteria for licensure in New York State.

A New York physical therapist assistant has completed an approved two-year college program that includes studies in anatomy and physiology; in addition, instruction addresses how to provide treatment under the supervision of a physical therapist. New York physical therapist assistants have passed a national written examination and met all criteria for licensure in New York State, including clinical experience. 

How do I obtain the services of a physical therapist?

Physical therapists practice with referrals from dentists, nurse practitioners, physicians, physician assistants, and podiatrists. As of November 23, 2006, a physical therapist with three years of practice experience may treat patients without a referral from a physician, dentist, podiatrist, or nurse practitioner for 10 visits or 30 days, whichever occurs first.  However, treatment without a referral may not be an expense covered by insurance. 

The physical therapist will evaluate your condition, discuss the evaluation with you, and implement a personalized treatment plan and therapy goals.

What kinds of services and treatments can I expect?

Physical therapists take your health history, observe your posture and movement, evaluate your injury, and develop a plan of care.  Treatment may include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • patient/client education in health, wellness, and safety
  • manual therapy, such as massage and mobilization and manipulation
  • therapeutic exercise
  • management of pain
  • application of therapeutic modalities, such as ultrasound and electrical stimulation
  • training in daily living activities

Physical therapist assistants work under the supervision of physical therapists to assist you in reaching your treatment goals.

Where do physical therapy professionals practice?

Physical therapists and physical therapist assistants practice in a wide variety of settings, including hospitals, clinics, private practices, home care, schools, and in industry. Only a physical therapist may offer physical therapy services.

How do I locate a physical therapist?  What do the letters mean after a physical therapist's name?

Check with your physician, hospital or school, or ask people you know who have had a successful experience with a particular professional.  You can also check under "Physical Therapists" in the yellow pages of your telephone book.  You may also call professional organizations for assistance in identifying member providers.  The State Board for Physical Therapy cannot refer you to a practitioner.

The initials used in connection with a licensed physical therapist's name are "P.T." Only the use of the abbreviation "P.T." is protected in law, which means that only a licensed physical therapist can use these initials.  Although an individual can include the academic degree in one's signature, these designations are neither recognized nor protected by Education Law or the Rules of the Regents.   You may find that there are other individuals using initials that may look like they are a physical therapist.  CPT, for example, is used by certified personal trainers, but they are not licensed professionals and they are not physical therapists.

Use of the title "doctor" when offering to perform professional services must indicate the profession in which the licensee holds a doctorate.  If a professional is not a medical doctor, the profession in which the licensee holds a doctorate must be indicated in some way, such as, Dr. Jones, DPT, Physical Therapist or John Jones, PT, DPT.  

 

How will I know if the physical therapy professional providing my care is licensed in New York?

You may verify a license by checking the Office of Professions’ website at www.op.nysed.gov.  In addition you may check to see if a physical therapist has been charged with professional misconduct by looking at the same website.

Physical therapists and physical therapist assistants must also display their credentials (see "Displaying Credentials" section.

What questions should individuals with disabilities ask about accessing services?

Ask such questions as whether the service location is physically accessible (curb cuts, ramps, restrooms, etc.) as well as whether there is a Telecommunication Device for the Deaf (TDD) and parking for people with disabilities. You may also ask if the practitioner makes house calls.

What records does my physical therapist retain? Can anyone else get them?

Your file contains a record which reflects your evaluation, treatment plan, and actual treatment notes. Physical therapists must keep client records for six years or until the client turns 22, whichever is longer.  Generally, your records are confidental unless you approve their release.  Ask your professional about exceptions to this. If you want a copy of your records, provide your physical therapist with a written request. You may be charged a reasonable fee to offset the cost of providing copies.

How can I evaluate the quality of physical therapy services?

In evaluating the quality of the care given to you, you should be able to answer Yes to each statement below:

  • A physical therapist performed my evaluation.
  • The physical therapist involved me in developing goals and an individualized treatment plan.
  • My privacy was maintained.

Display of Credentials

New York licensed professionals must display a current New York registration certificate; this certificate lists the professional's name, address, and dates of the registration period. Licensees must reregister every three years to practice in New York. Some professionals also display their original New York license, diploma, licenses from other states, and membership certificates. You may verify an individual's license and registration on this site.

Verifying a New York License

New York licensed professionals must display a current New York registration certificate; this certificate lists the professional's name, address, and dates of the registration period. Licensees must reregister every three years to practice in New York. Some professionals also display their original New York license, diploma, licenses from other states, and membership certificates. You may verify an individual's license and registration on this site.

Last Updated: June 19, 2009