What’s Your Ism?

How do your conscious or unconscious biases affect your ability to provide safe and effective care for patients?

If you work in a private practice setting, think about your office for a minute.

Do you have posters for promotion or décor?  Do you have gym equipment?  Is there any chance that these décor elements might intimidate obese, disabled or elderly patients?

Hospital clinics can have some of the same design elements.  Images intended to inspire could have quite the opposite effect.  Is it possible that your décor makes patients hesitant to attend appointments or discouraged about their prospects for recovery?

Décor, while tangible, is the least of the ways that your own feelings or beliefs may have an impact on your ability to help your patients.

I was privileged to attend the World Congress for Physical Therapy last month and one of the sessions which most resonated for me was about critical thinking in physiotherapy.

One speaker, Jenny Setchell, studied stigmatism in physiotherapy. You can find an article she published called “What Has Stigma Got to Do with Physiotherapy?” here.

She shared an anecdote about attending an educational program intended to teach a particular technique for management of lower back pain.  At the session, a colleague noted that it would be difficult to perform the technique on an obese person. Fair enough, and perhaps that opinion would not deter a physiotherapist from performing it anyway, but maybe it would make them less likely to recommend it, or to believe they could perform it well.  Perhaps that patient would have fewer treatment options, not because of real physical barriers but because of an undetected stigmatism on the part of the physiotherapist.

Ms. Setchell talked about stigmatism for disability, mental illness and persistent pain, as well as obesity.

What do you think?  Do you stigmatize patients?  Or potential patients?

We’re worried that the images on our College website perpetuate some isms – and we’ve set a goal of attaining a more realistic picture of physiotherapy practice.  Real PTs, real patients!

Contact us if you’d like to see yourself or your practice on our website at communications@collegept.org.  We’re hoping to collect some new photos of real people over the next year to support all of you in identifying and managing your own isms.