Operational Considerations for Physical Therapy During COVID-19

Physical therapists play an important role in responding to pandemic and physical disaster situations. In these situations, healthcare leadership teams can reference existing literature for guidance in order to appropriately and safely leverage physical therapy resources and skillsets. 

In mid-April 2020, a research team that included physical therapy leadership joined together to support hospital planning efforts related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.  

Between April and May, CHRIM investigator and ENNRICH Theme Co-lead, Dr. Kristy Wittmeier, led a research team through a 4-week rapid review of pandemic and physical disaster management literature. The team summarized physical therapy-specific operational considerations in order to assist hospital-based leadership teams in the planning and response efforts of COVID-19. 

Dr. Wittmeier, an assistant professor at the University of Manitoba and Dr. John M. Bowman Chair in Pediatrics and Child Health, teamed up with two physical therapist clinician-researchers, a health librarian, and a member of the physical therapy leadership team to conduct this study. Together they identified 303 articles, 80 of which were retained for full-text screening and twenty that were included in the study which has been published in the American Physical Therapy Association

The rapid review helped identify 5 main categories of operational considerations for physical therapy during the COVID-19 pandemic, relating to i) organizational actions, ii) staffing consideration, iii) physical therapist roles, iv) physical resources, and v) other considerations.

A majority of the relevant information came from reports published by countries that were affected earliest by COVID-19.

The results of the rapid review were shared with physical therapy leadership, as the project progressed, to help inform timely and evidence-based decision making. The review highlighted the many and varied roles that physical therapists can play in the healthcare system during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the organizational considerations that can be implemented to support staff and patients.

The full report can be accessed here.