Your Hawaii delegation to the APTA House of Delegates is bringing three motions to be heard at the July meeting of the House in Kansas City. The first motion is to adopt a revised definition of physical therapists’ role in primary care. The motion language is:


Physical therapists possess clinical expertise in both disease prevention and management of health to evaluate and manage common conditions seen in primary care settings.

Physical therapists practicing to the full extent of their education and clinical training in primary care improve the health needs of society.


The second motion is to develop a definition of “physical therapy” which the APTA currently does not have.


That a special committee of the House of Delegates be created to develop a definition of “physical therapy”. The definition shall be a contemporary description of physical therapy that describes the profession’s rightful place in healthcare, and the breadth and depth of physical therapy. The definition shall not be limiting and will be flexible to be relevant as the profession, health care, and research change over time.

The committee shall report to the House of Delegates in 2025.


The third motion seeks to adopt new definitions of patient and client and adopt a definition of patient-physical therapist relationship.


The following terms and definitions shall be used as indicated in all APTA policies, positions, binding ethical documents, publications, and communications.


Individuals who are the recipients of physical therapist professional services which can include consultation, examination, evaluation, diagnosis, prognosis, intervention, prevention of health conditions, and wellness.


Individuals, groups, entities, or populations who engage the professional services of a physical therapist. Client(s) do not meet the definition of patient(s) as they do not receive personalized services to manage a health condition, prevent a health condition, or maintain wellness, and there is not a patient-physical therapist relationship. Individuals who require personalized services to manage health condition(s), health prevention services, or wellness services are patients.

Patient-Physical Therapist Relationships

The provision of physical therapy is the professional encounter between a patient and a physical therapist. It is fundamentally a moral activity that arises from the imperative to care for patients and improve health. The relationship between a patient and a physical therapist is based on trust, which gives rise to physical therapists’ ethical responsibility to place patients’ welfare above the physical therapist’s own self-interest or obligations to others, to use sound professional judgment on patients’ behalf, and to advocate for their patients’ welfare.

A patient-physical therapist relationship exists when a physical therapist serves a patient’s health needs including management of health conditions, prevention of health conditions and promotion of wellness services to optimize health. Generally, the relationship is entered into by mutual consent between the physical therapist and patient (or surrogate).

However, in certain circumstances a limited patient-physical therapist relationship may be created without the patient’s (or surrogate’s) explicit agreement. Such circumstances include:

  • When a physical therapist provides emergency care or provides care at the request of the patient’s treating physical therapist. In these circumstances, the patient’s (or surrogate’s) agreement to the relationship is implicit.
  • When a physical therapist provides appropriate professional services for a prisoner under court order, in keeping with the Code of Ethics for the Physical Therapist and Standards of Practice for Physical Therapy.
  • When a physical therapist examines a patient in the context of an independent medical examination, in keeping with the Code of Ethics for the Physical Therapist and Standards of Practice for Physical Therapy. In such situations, a limited patient-physical therapist relationship exists.

We welcome your comments and conversation.

Douglas White

Dang Ngo

Brianne Childs