Physical therapy is a valuable profession of service to others and healing that aims to promote, maintain, manage and improve health and functioning through evaluation, programming and treatment, according to Kentucky regulation. To become a licensed physical therapist takes major investment in education, training, time and money, so anyone with a license in South Carolina or Kentucky or with privileges to otherwise practice there should seek legal advice at the first suggestion of risk to their license and career.
Physical therapy license basics
Professional licensure is largely a creature of state law. Physical therapy licensing is broadly enabled through state legislation, while state licensing boards (like the Kentucky Board of Physical Therapy, the South Carolina Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation and the South Carolina Board of Physical Therapy) administer and regulate the licensing process.
Boards of physical therapy establish therapist qualification and standards of practice, including eligibility for and processes to eligibility for state (or commonwealth) licenses. For example, in Kentucky, a candidate must have completed educational and clinical requirements. Then, licensing is obtained through examination, endorsement or reinstatement. Licensed physical therapists must meet continuing education and training requirements to maintain their credentials.
Complaints, investigation, discipline and loss of privilege to practice
Anyone can file a complaint with the state board asserting that a licensed physical therapist has violated the practice standards or ethical expectations required to hold a license. In addition, normally physical therapists must report violations of other therapists. A complaint kicks off a board investigation, if warranted, that may result in a formal complaint proceeding, including a potential disciplinary hearing.
Allegations that, if substantiated, could threaten a physical therapy license:
- Physical or mental condition, including substance use or abuse, which impairs the ability to practice safely
- A criminal conviction impacting patient safety or competence
- Failure to reply to the complaint
- Violation of the ethics code such as through physical, verbal or sexual patient abuse; provision of unnecessary services; engage in dishonest behavior with the board; and others
- Failure to meet the standards of practice, including appropriate screenings, evaluation and treatment
- Fraud in dealing with board or patients
- Substandard care or provision of services that are grossly negligent or incompetent
- Inadequate patient recordkeeping
- Sexual harassment or touching of a colleague without consent
- And many others
The board may issue a private admonishment to track internally a physical therapist’s actions. Official discipline might include:
- Restrictions on scope of practice
- License suspension or revocation
- Refusal to approve or renew license
Such discipline will likely have severely negative impact on a physical therapist’s career and professional reputation, so careful handling and response to the complaint or investigation is crucial.
Unique credentialing for certain physical therapists such as those with temporary permits, those who studied outside the U.S., those practicing telephysical therapy (telehealth) to Kentuckians from outside the commonwealth or from Kentucky to patients in other states, or those practicing through the interstate physical therapy compact can face unique licensing issues that may benefit from involving a lawyer.
A licensed physical therapist impaired by a physical, addiction or mental condition may be able to access alternative programming that may involve treatment or rehabilitation rather than discipline.
An attorney with experience in professional licensure defense can be a crucial ally and advocate throughout the complaint, investigatory and disciplinary processes. There may be different options to resolve a particular complaint, including settlement with the board through negotiation or mediation. A lawyer can provide information and guidance on the potential legal remedies available. Should the board hold a hearing, legal counsel can help determine whether witnesses should face deposition or testify at the hearing in support of the therapist.