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The Rise of Integrated Health Clinics: Where do Physical Therapists Fit In?

Well, it’s about time. I have been waiting for the moment when an employer uttered, “Glad to have you on the team! We got the chiros in the front, the PTs in the back and the MTs come by appointment whenever you need them. Oh, and, since you have your doctorate, I guess you’ve got it from here!”

During PT school, I remember even the reference of POPTS (Physician Owned Physical Therapy Services) or any example of “integrated clinics” striking grimaces on my professors’ faces, almost in disgust as the idea would be a disgrace against the PT profession. Unintentionally, in my own path, I actually found to love integrated clinics, and this empowered me to flourish and maintain my clinical drive in the outpatient setting.

At this point, I can’t imagine NOT being connected to other healthcare professionals closely, as I highly value a holistic approach to patient care for physical therapy needs.

Integrated clinics encompass any or all medical doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists, massage therapists and, if lucky, acupuncturists, athletic trainers, nutritionists, and personal trainers on the team. This type of practice has much more to offer the physical therapist than sometimes given credit for, and the goal of this article is to show you some ways it can benefit you as the physical therapist.

How do physical therapists fit into integrated health clinics?

PTs take on a critical role in the functioning healthcare team. Their skillsets are held to high standards, and autonomous practice empowers physical therapists to become more business savvy. Perhaps most importantly, a role in an integrated health clinic builds a physical therapist’s commitment to understanding how integrated treatment truly allows each practitioner the opportunity to practice truly patient-centered care.

Here are just a few ways that working in an integrated health clinic can help you professionally.

1. Working in integrated health clinics allows you build a brand and a name for yourself

Integrated clinics allow physical therapists to build a brand and become a leader, by acting as the lead musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, cardiopulmonary specialist on-board to help the patient regain functionality.

PTs are becoming more autonomous, thanks to Vision 2020, as well as the creation of nation-wide doctoral programs. And, with healthcare costs rising for the patient (high copays for check-ups, referrals to specialists, people are living longer), patients are less willing to tolerate poor care. In fact, patients are more willing to find ‘the best’ when it comes to healthcare practitioners, and they are willing to look long and hard for the best, and pay for the best.

2. Integrated health clinics promote professional growth

Integrated clinics promote physical therapists’ mastery of manual skills, movement analysis, and assessment of dysfunction, because other healthcare professionals rely on them for their contributions to the patients’ needs. If the personal trainer needs to know exactly what the patient’s dysfunction is, in order to safely train the patient, you better darn well do a good assessment! Accountability is healthy for you as a therapist.

An ‘integrated’ versus ‘segregated’ way of approaching the patient typically works more effectively, improves patient satisfaction, and improves overall healthy outcomes.

The physical therapists also influences other practitioners to become better and settle into where their roles fit in, based on the bigger picture of the each patient’s dysfunction. Sometimes, the nutritionist will lead the team. In other cases the PT will. Or the chiropractor. Or the physician or athletic trainer. Each patient has his or her own unique needs, and an integrated team allows those needs to be met in a unique way.

3. You learn vital practice operations lessons

Working in an integrated clinic heightens awareness of how the services rendered correlate with your value as the PT. You might even wind up ‘naming your price’ for cost of evaluations and treatments, depending on the size of the clinic(s) and how many PTs with whom you will be working. By taking charge of the ‘PT department’ within the integrated clinic, the PT masters billing, business operations, and practice management skills to last an entire career.

One thing that has surprised me in the past is how medical doctors and chiropractors come out of academia knowing they have to become their own business practice owners at some time in their career, where PTs are never truly oriented to that idea.

PTs typically become part of their clinics’ teams, and how they successfully climb the ranks in popularity is often dictated by MD referrals and patients’ rave reviews. Referrals and word of mouth are KEY to any successful business, and when a patient believes in you and your colleagues, they will trust your entire care plan more.

Referrals are much easier in an integrated clinical setting, because the PT typically works side-by-side with other practitioners of different scopes under the same roof. Vulnerability and trust quickly build because you are holding them accountable and witness the fruits of their labor (the improving patient) on a daily basis rather than referring out to who knows where on whatever drawn-out time frame you currently see in the field.

4. You will love your work

As a PT, you want to feel at home. All that’s heard is, “ If you find a job you love, you won’t work a day in your life!”

As a physical therapist, if you find yourself a consistent referral source (the MD and chiropractor within your own practice, for example) and have the trust and buy-in of the patients, you may become more successful then you ever imagined! You will be more attached to your care, more attached to your earnings and more attached to the value of YOU and the value of what your skills bring to the team.

You will see a huge improvement in the quality of care and a minimization of the frustrations of disjointed treatments (poor communication, patients “falling through the cracks” of the medical system).

The approach really makes sense when you consider most patients’ needs are based on convenience (location to home), cost of services (cheaper usually better) and feeling like their time is valued (ease of navigating therapy program especially if it involves chiropractic and acupuncture services, for example).

Vida Integrated Health is a type of clinic that offers PTs the role of developing themselves to become more than just another warm body in the clinic. Dr. Kris Sasaki started the clinic because he was sick of referring patients out to other practitioners, only to find that these patients “fell through the cracks,” often failing to receive the care he’d hoped, and feeling “unfixable” by the current medical model.


I, selfishly, appreciate that this health care system looks out for our best interest in the patients because it capitalizes both on efficacy and efficiency; a win-win for both parties. If your core truth as a practitioner is truly to ‘help people’, you may consider how the concept and logistics of an integrated clinic like, Vida Integrated Health may help you treat the patient more effectively and find more value in your work.

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About Sara M. Cates, PT, DPT, HHP

Sara Cates
Sara is a licensed physical therapist and a nationally certified massage therapist/ holistic health practitioner who has been practicing physical therapy since 2010. She received her doctoral degree from USA (San Diego) with undergraduate education at SDSU (San Diego) where she competed Track & Field/ Cross Country. Sara’s experience is extensive in outpatient sports medicine setting emphasizing biomechanics. She also is versed in pediatric and acute care. She is a certified Graston Technique provider and certified Clinical Instructor with a real passion for teaching. Sara is native to Carlsbad, CA and enjoys training for endurance sports such as triathlon and running. Her varied experiences in the practice of physical therapy has helped her develop a unique combination of manual skills with a holistic approach of treating the mind, body, and spirit of her patients and athletes. “The most gratifying part about my job is helping someone find inner strength and commitment to themself to overcome injury or attain a personal goal.”

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