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Innovative Physical Therapy Program Increases Readiness

December 11, 2017

SOUTHWEST ASIA, Dec. 11, 2017 — An innovative system here is helping airmen remain physically capable, allowing them to be more productive and mission-ready in their duties.

With the help of a colleague, Air Force Capt. Eric Walter, the 386th Expeditionary Medical Group physical therapy element chief, has developed a proactive approach to physical therapy.

“We embed into a unit for a set number of weeks,” he said. “We bring out two tables and all our gear, treating patients as if they had come to the clinic.” While Walter evaluates and re-evaluates, his assistant, Air Force Staff Sgt. David Dillow, a physical therapy technician with the 386th EMDG, executes the plan of care.

“We try to help patients with injuries obtained from the [area of responsibility],” Dillow said. “But we don’t turn people away who have had past injuries. We know past injuries can flare up and affect job-related duties.”

Maximum Help, Minimum Time

The program is intended for units where airmen are performing heavy labor jobs with limited ability to get to the medical clinic, as well as frequent patients of the clinic.

It is designed to help as many people as possible in a short amount of time, the physical therapy duo explained, adding that it saves the time of going through the clinic’s appointment process and increases morale, as the airmen know the team is thinking about their unit.

The team’s overall goal is to see fewer people every week, Walter said. “We want to be a jump-start and provide coaching for each patient and give them tools to become more fit-to-fight airmen,” he explained.

This is the first — and so far the only — deployed embedded physical therapy program. It started in August with a pilot unit.

“On the first day, we evaluated 21 patients, and on the final day after seven weeks of embedment, we only saw four, with no returning patients,” Walter said. “We ask each person we see to follow up with us the following week if things get better. We keep track of everything we did the week before to provide high-quality care.”

A Big Help

Air Force Senior Airman Calvin Lourens, 386th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron passenger service specialist, said the team has been a big help for him.

“We work around a mission,” he said. “When they come down here, it makes it easier for us. After they visit, I feel refreshed and more comfort. I am able to take what they teach me and work with it.”

Lourens suffers from shoulder pain. Walter treated him, and Dillow gave him exercises to strengthen specific muscles during his second visit with the physical therapy team.

Walter said he has received feedback from the units and their commanders, highlighting the program’s benefits. He has tracked fewer units coming into the clinic for therapy after the physical therapy team embedded with their unit. The plan going forward is to use the system for upcoming rotations to help ensure airmen are mission-ready, he added.