Week Honors Rehab Specialists

By Michele Butts, MPT, CWS

Director of Therapy Operations, Encompass Health Rehabilitation Institute of Tucson

Each year during the third week of September, we celebrate National Rehabilitation Week and recognize the role rehabilitation professionals play in the health care field.

Inpatient physical rehabilitation is a unique specialty setting that is different than outpatient, skilled nursing homes or acute care. Here is a brief breakdown of the roles and responsibilities of the various people you might meet in a rehabilitation hospital.

Physiatrist: These medical doctors have completed training in physical medicine and rehabilitation. They lead the interdisciplinary team in the collaborative treatment approach. Many have subspecialties in traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, amputation or stroke.

Physical therapist (PT): Physical therapists use a variety of treatment techniques to reduce pain, restore functional independence, promote mobility and prevent disability. In addition to conventional therapy, some PTs have specialty certification and training for the treatment of vestibular disorders, pelvic floor/women’s health, wound care, aquatics, and orthopedic or neurologic clinical specialists.

Occupational therapist (OT): Occupational therapists promote function and independence through the therapeutic use of daily activities (occupations). They use evidence-based treatments to adapt the environment or task to allow the person to return to work, play or school at the highest level of independence. OTs may also complete screening exams for return to driving or visual-perceptual deficits.

Speech-language pathologist (SLP): Speech-language pathologists provide a broad range of therapeutic services that include: evaluation and treatment of language disorders (aphasia), speech disorders (apraxia), swallowing disorders (dysphagia), as well as cognitive functions such as memory and problem solving. In a rehabilitation setting, they work with patients who have suffered from a stroke, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease or other disorders that affect cognition, language or swallowing. SLPs also complete instrumental evaluations of swallow using specialized equipment and may assist patients with setting up or using an AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) device.

Certified rehabilitation registered nurse (CRRN): Certified rehabilitation registered nurses are experts in nursing. They provide advanced care for individuals with physical disabilities and chronic illnesses and collaborate with the interdisciplinary care team to provide coordinated care and patient education. They work with the patient and their family members to improve the quality of life and overall health.

Case manager (CM): Case managers are nurses or social workers who collaborate with the care team and the patient/family to coordinate the transition from inpatient rehabilitation to home. They are knowledgeable regarding services and programs that are available in the community to facilitate a safe discharge. They also assist with arranging for services needed immediately after being in the hospital.