Consumer Information/FAQs

What is a physical therapist? A physical therapist assistant? A physical therapy aide?

How do I verify a physical therapist's or physical therapist assistant's license?

What credentials does a California physical therapist have? A physical therapist assistant? A physical therapy aide?

How do I obtain the services of a physical therapist?

What services and treatments can I expect?

Where do physical therapists practice?

How will I know the identity of the person providing my physical therapy care?

What questions should individuals with disabilities ask about accessing services?

What records does my physical therapist retain, and for how long? Can anyone request a copy?

How can I evaluate the quality of physical therapy services?

What are my rights to request a copy of my medical record?

Can a physical therapist or physical therapist assistant have a personal relationship with their patient? What if it's consensual?

Do you have concerns and/or problems with communicating with the physical therapist?

Examples of other reasons for discipline.

Can the PTBC refer me to a physical therapist in my area?

What is a physical therapist? A physical therapist assistant? A physical therapy aide?

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

A physical therapist assistant is licensed and provides physical therapy care under the supervision of a physical therapist.

A physical therapy aide is an unlicensed person who assists a physical therapist and is under the direct and immediate supervision of a physical therapist. The physical therapy aide can only provide direct care to the patient if the supervising physical therapist is within audible reach.

How do I verify a physical therapist's or physical therapist assistant's license?

Online verification is available on the PTBC's website.

What credentials does a California physical therapist have? A physical therapist assistant? A physical therapy aide?

A California licensed physical therapist has completed an accredited four-to-six-year college program. If educated in a foreign country, proof of an equivalent professional degree to that issued by a United States accredited physical education program that entitles them to practice as a physical therapist in the country where the diploma was issued is required. The educational requirements in physical therapy, including studies in biology, basic medical sciences, and clinical experience as required in a US accredited program. Studies focus on the evaluation and treatment of the heart, lungs, muscles, bones, and the nervous system. In addition, California physical therapists have passed the national physical therapy examination and an examination on the laws and regulations governing the practice of physical therapy in California.

A California physical therapist assistant has completed an accredited two-year college program or has met the equivalency requirements, which include studies in anatomy and physiology. Clinical experience is also required for both avenues. In addition, California physical therapist assistants have passed the national physical therapist assistant examination and an examination on the laws and regulations governing the practice of physical therapy in California.

A physical therapy aide is not licensed and is not required to meet any education requirements and has no formal training. Training is received on-site and under the supervision of a licensed physical therapist.

How do I obtain the services of a physical therapist?

Physical therapists in California are required to have a diagnosis from a licensed health care professional who is authorized by his/her license to diagnose (i.e. physicians, dentists, podiatrists, chiropractors, etc.). Although a physical therapist may perform an evaluation without a diagnosis, one is required prior to the physical therapist providing any physical therapy treatment. Under California law a referral is not required by the State of California.

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

If a third party payor (i.e. health insurance) will be billed for your physical therapy services, you will need to follow the policy and procedures of that agency. For example, the third party payor may also require you to have a referral along with the diagnosis from a licensed professional who is authorized to diagnose in order for physical therapy services to be reimbursed. The Physical Therapy Board of California does not regulate insurance companies or billing. Therefore, it is your responsibility to understand how your services will be paid.

What services and treatments can I expect?

Physical therapists, as part of the evaluation, will among other things, take your health history, observe your posture and movement or any limitations you may have, and use their hands to palpate and evaluate problem areas. From this evaluation, the physical therapist then establishes a plan of care (treatment) with goals and an estimated time to expect these goals to be achieved. The physical therapist should solicit your participation in establishing the treatment plan and goals.

Treatment may include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • therapeutic use of hands
  • exercise programs
  • application of therapeutic modalities such as ultrasound and electrical stimulation
  • training in daily living activities
  • patient education

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

Most important, if you have questions regarding your physical therapy treatment plan and goals, direct your questions to the physical therapist.

Where do physical therapist practice?

Physical therapists practice in a wide variety of settings, including hospitals, rehabilitation clinics, private practices, home care, schools, and in industry.

Physical therapist assistants may assist in the provision of physical therapy treatment without the physical therapist being in the same facility, as long as the physical therapist assistant is supervised pursuant to Section 1398.44 of Title 16 California Code of Regulations. A physical therapist assistant is only permitted to provide physical therapy treatment as directed by the supervising physical therapist. A physical therapist assistant is not allowed to perform the initial evaluation, re-evaluations, change a treatment plan, supervise another physical therapist assistant and/or physical therapy aide or conduct a discharge and discharge summary.

Physical therapy aides may only provide physical therapy treatment in the same facility as the supervising physical therapist and is required to have direct and immediate supervision pursuant to Section 1399 of Title 16 California Code of Regulation. Treatment by a physical therapy aide must also include treatment by the supervising physical therapist on that same day.

How will I know the identity of the person providing my physical therapy care?

Physical therapists and physical therapist assistants shall disclose, while working, his/her name and practitioner's license status, as granted by this state, on a name tag in at least 18-point type. A physical therapist or physical therapist assistant in a practice or an office, whose license is prominently displayed in that office, may opt not to wear a name tag.

Each supervising licensed physical therapist shall require all physical therapy aides, applicants, students and interns performing patient related tasks under his or her supervision to display while working his or her name and working title on a name tag in at least 18-point type.

For more information on the license status of a physical therapist or physical therapist assistant, please click here to verify a license.

What questions should individuals with disabilities ask about accessing services?

• Is the location of where you are obtaining physical therapy services physically accessible (curb cuts, ramps, restrooms, etc.)?
• Is a Telecommunication Device for the Deaf (TDD) and disability parking available?
• Does the practitioner makes house calls?

What records does my physical therapist retain and for how long? Can anyone request a copy?

Your file contains a record that reflects your evaluation, treatment plan, and actual treatment notes. Patient records shall be maintained for a period of no less than seven years following the discharge of the patient, except that the records of unemancipated minors shall be maintained at least one year after the minor has reached the age of 18 years, and not in any case less than seven years.

Generally, patient records are confidential unless you authorize release of your records. Ask your health care professional about exceptions to this. If you want a copy of your records, provide your physical therapist with a written request. The facility or physical therapist may charge 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 explained my treatment plan and goals.
• The physical therapist addressed my concerns regarding my treatment plan and goals.
• The physical therapist wore an identification badge showing name and title or the license was posted in a place that was visible.
• My privacy was maintained.

What are my rights to request a copy of my medical record?

For information on your rights to request a copy of your own medical record, click on Medical Records.

Can a physical therapist or physical therapist assistant have a personal relationship with their patient? What if it was consensual?

Physical therapy never includes sex. It also never includes verbal sexual advances or any other kind of sexual contact or behavior. Sexual contact of any kind in the course of a physical therapy treatment is illegal and unethical. Harm may arise from the exploitation of the patient by the physical therapy provider to fulfill his/her own needs or desires, as well as from the physical therapy provider's loss of objectivity necessary for effective physical therapy. All physical therapy providers are trained and educated to know that this kind of behavior is inappropriate and can result in license revocation.

By the nature of their profession, physical therapy providers are trusted and respected, and it is normal for patients to feel attracted to someone who is attentive, kind and caring. However, a physical therapy provider who accepts or encourages these normal feelings in a sexual way, is using the trusted physical therapy relationship to take advantage of the patient.

What happens if I have concerns and/or problems communication with the physical therapist?

Some concerns or problems between a patient and a licensee are caused by a breakdown in communication. Some common misunderstandings are the scope of services available, the quality of professional services, and the timeliness of those services. Direct and open communication can be beneficial to both the patient and the professional in seeking an acceptable resolution.

If you cannot resolve a problem and you believe that the issue of concern is a violation of the Physical Therapy Practice Act, you may file a complaint with the PTBC by completing the Physical Therapy Board's Consumer Complaint Form. The PTBC investigates complaints based upon the specific information you provide.

Examples of other reasons for discipline?

Examples of other violations of law not mentioned in the Reasons for Discipline that should be brought to the PTBC's attention include: conviction of a criminal offense related to the profession; mental illness; practicing outside the scope of the provider's license or below accepted community standards; and breach of confidentiality and deceptive advertising.

Can the PTBC refer me to a physical therapist in my area?

No, the PTBC does not provide referrals.

Email the Consumer Protection Program cps@dca.ca.gov