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One of the most rapidly growing occupations in the United States today is Physical Therapy. The United States Department of Labor has projected 23,000 unfilled physical therapist positions in the year 2000 and a lack of qualified physical therapists to fill them (www.apta.org). While Physical Therapy grows rapidly, questions of ethics in this field have also grown in large quantities.
Physical therapy is the treatment of disease through physical means, including light, heat, sound waves, electricity, magnetic fields, and exercise (www.byu.edu). This means that therapists use many different forms to treat people, and treating people can be a large challenge because of all the different possibilities that could occur with the different treatments. Physical Therapy is a very rewarding and lucrative profession if the problems that come along with the job are dealt with in a capable manner.
The main problem with Physical Therapy is the problem of the ethics of the profession.
There are many ethical conflicts such as how to charge based on your services, and what types of services to give to each individual patient. To guide physical therapists in their decision making the American Physical Therapy Association came up with a code of ethics for its members to set their standards to work by. Their members are required to work by this code and are also required to maintain ethical practices. The first principle in their code is to respect the rights and dignity of all individuals. This includes all patients, employees, and co-workers. The second principle is to comply with all of the laws and regulations governing the practice of physical therapy.
Physical therapists learn these laws in school before becoming a therapist. The third principle is that they must accept responsibility for their actions and exercise sound judgment. Every therapist must own up to their mistakes, and take responsibility for their patients. The fourth principle is that they must maintain and promote high standards for physical therapy practice, education, and research. No therapist should ever compromise his or her beliefs for any reason. The fifth principle is that they must seek remuneration for their services that is deserved and reasonable.
This means that they should be paid for the work that they do, but that the pay should be a reasonable amount. The sixth principle is that they must provide accurate information to the consumer about the profession and about those services they provide. This includes a thorough explanation of what they will be doing while servicing a patient. The seventh principle is that they must accept the responsibility to protect the public and the profession from unethical, incompetent, or illegal acts. This means that if they are aware of any unethical acts, they are obligated to report them. The eight and final principle is that they must participate in efforts to address the health needs of the public (Code of Ethics).
These principles have been addresses, but there are still many problems in the system. To assess some of the problems that therapists feel are important, many surveys are conducted. One survey by the United Kingdom National Health Service wanted to compare ethical contexts and themes, so they sent a structured questionnaire to many different physical therapy groups around the country. The therapists filled out the questionnaires and the results found that the most common ethical problems among therapists in the United Kingdom were dangerous behaviors in patients and unprofessional staff behavior. Their second biggest concern was resource limitations and treatment effectiveness. These findings suggested that educators of future physical therapists need to make students aware of work settings and the interdisciplinary nature of employment as well as principles held by individual therapists (Barnitt).
The American Physical Therapy Association also conducted a study to identify current ethical issues and also issues that may be faced in the future by therapists. They used a technique called the Delphi technique, where a panel of experts was selected and the experts responded to questionnaires stating their concerns with ethics. The experts narrowed their concerns down to three categories: patient rights and welfare, professional issues, and business factors. The experts chose six patient rights and welfare issues, five professional issues, and five relating to business factors .