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As far as APTA's House of Delegates (House) is concerned, the future is now.

During her address to the 2017 House that opened the 3-day meeting held June 19-21, APTA President Sharon Dunn, PT, PhD, challenged delegates to make "bold moves" that would define where physical therapy would go in its next 100 years. The House delivered, passing motions—several unanimously—that articulated the physical therapist’s (PT's) professional scope of practice and its place within the PT’s overall scope of practice, set in motion an investigation into the ways APTA might facilitate a physical therapy "innovation centers" program, and made commitments to increasing diversity and inclusiveness in the profession, among other policies. The common thread: nearly every approved motion had implications for the future of the profession.

One notable moment in the meeting came when the House adopted a definition of the PT professional scope of practice, the culmination of a multiyear effort with the ambitious goal of capturing all that PTs do without resorting to a list of activities that risked missing something or quickly growing outdated. The definition, which passed by a unanimous vote of the more than 400 participating delegates, gets the job done in 2 paragraphs:

"The professional scope of physical therapist practice is grounded in basic, behavioral, and clinical sciences. It is supported by education, based on a body of evidence, and linked to existing and emerging practice frameworks. The professional scope evolves in response to innovation, research, collaboration, and changes in societal needs.

The professional scope consists of patient and client management, which includes diagnosis and prognosis, to optimize physical function, movement, performance, health and quality of life across the lifespan. Additionally, the professional scope includes contributions to public health services aimed at improving the human experience."

The adoption of the definition completes the association's effort to recharacterize how the profession thinks about scope-of-practice issues under 3 domains: personal scope (what the PT is educated, trained, and personally competent to perform), jurisdictional scope (the activities associated with physical therapy in state practice acts), and the professional, a more global description of the practice of physical therapy.

While the scope decision established a here-and-now waypoint to the future, other House actions set sights on how the profession could evolve. One example: a motion directing the APTA Board of Directors to explore models for "innovation centers" for PTs with creative ideas for bringing novel practice concepts to market. The models could include freestanding "incubators," industry partnerships, or partnerships within health systems, and the board is charged with investigating which, if any, alone or in combination, offer the most promise to help move practice forward.

The House also looked to the future in terms of not just what PTs do but the makeup of PTs doing it. In another unanimous vote, delegates approved a charge to APTA to do whatever it takes to "implement best practice strategies to advance diversity and inclusion within the profession of physical therapy." It's an effort that delegates acknowledged will take more than the association alone, and could include work with education programs, employers, and even pre-DPT public and private academic institutions.

Other actions taken by the 2017 House include:

  • Instructions to the APTA Board of Directors to develop a plan to help ameliorate the administrative burdens placed on PTs
  • A charge to the APTA Board of Directors to develop and adopt a new mission statement for APTA
  • Expansion of an existing policy to emphasize the PT’s role in disability evaluation and determination for purposes such as transportation, employment, and insurance
  • The establishment of a committee to review all House documents
  • A bylaws change that would permit chapters to assign full representation to representatives of physical therapist assistants (PTAs), PTA lifetime members, and retired PTA members
  • A bylaws change that would allow more chapter membership flexibility for APTA members who are uniformed personnel, or whose spouses or partners are in the uniformed services
  • Awarding honorary APTA membership to prominent researcher T. Richard Nichols, PhD.

APTA members can view videos of all open sessions of the 2017 House of Delegates online. Final language for all actions taken by the House will be available by September after the minutes have been approved.

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