African-American medical professional helping a woman use an exercise band

PTAs and Home Health Care

What They Do, How to Become One, & How Their Patients Benefit

African-American medical professional helping a woman use an exercise band

Home health care is one of the fastest-growing areas of the healthcare industry, as it improves both the quality of care and quality of life for many types of patients, for people who deal with long-term health challenges, mobility limitations, or other factors can make it much easier to receive health care at home, surrounded by their loved ones and a familiar, comfortable environment.

The upward trend of home health care also extends to physical therapy. Physical therapists and their assistants (PTAs) are increasingly bringing their services directly to patients’ homes, enabling more consistent care and much greater convenience for the people they treat.

Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of home health care, how physical therapist assistants fit into the picture, and what it takes to accomplish a career as a home health PTA. We’ll also cover some of the technological advances in home health care and a few of the challenges PTAs are likely to face while practicing outside of a traditional physical therapy clinic.

What Is Home Health Care?

As the name implies, home health care encompasses any form of treatment carried out from inside the comfort of a patient’s home. Home health care may be administered by physicians, nurses, physical and occupational therapists, or other trained providers.

While many different types of patients receive home health care, the nature of their health challenges usually means receiving care at home is more practical than traveling to a hospital or clinic. This may be due to mobility limitations, the severity of a patient’s condition, or simply the amount of care they require on a daily basis.

Physical therapy can be especially effective in a home health care setting because physical therapists and PTAs can get a firsthand look at their patients’ daily routines and develop treatment plans tailored toward each person’s lifestyle and long-term therapy goals. Because physical therapy often involves strengthening or regaining certain muscles or movements, everyday home tasks can be a great indicator of a patient’s progress.

Understanding the Role of PTAs in Home Health

When treating home health care patients, physical therapist assistants have many of the same responsibilities they do in a traditional PT clinic. PTAs always work under the direction of a licensed physical therapist, but their training and expertise also allow them a fair amount of on-the-job autonomy.

Physical therapist assistants regularly aid their supervising therapist during initial assessments to determine a patient’s current level of functioning. In a home care environment, patient assessments often involve observing the patient’s ability to accomplish certain daily tasks.

While physical therapists are the ones responsible for creating treatment plans, PTAs are instrumental in carrying them out. They demonstrate how to perform movements or exercises properly, supervise patients during exercises to ensure proper form and help patients stay safe and comfortable during their therapy sessions. PTAs also deliver a number of hands-on treatments like massage, stretching, cold and heat therapy, electrical stimulation, and many other modalities.

Physical therapy treatment plans frequently change based on how the patient responds, so home health PTAs are also involved in measuring, tracking, and documenting their patients’ progress. It’s important to track how strength, balance, range of motion, and other indicators change over time so a physical therapist can make adjustments as necessary.

In a home healthcare setting, PTAs also commonly educate patients and their family members or other caregivers on how to continue a treatment plan. This could involve daily exercises to build strength and flexibility, using ice or heat therapy to manage pain and inflammation, or learning to use adaptive equipment that will improve a patient’s mobility and independence.

Medical professional helping an older woman perform exercises

How to Become a Home Health PTA

PTAs treat a wide range of health conditions and patient populations, which requires a well-rounded education in both classroom theory and hands-on therapeutic skills. Physical therapist assistant programs are usually associate-level degrees, which can be completed in around two years by full-time students (or potentially faster through an accelerated program.)

After completing an accredited training program, aspiring physical therapist assistants must pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) for PTAs in order to receive a license from the state where they want to work. The NPTE proves you’ve mastered the necessary skills to treat patients safely and effectively, and passing it is a major milestone on your way to becoming a PTA.

PTAs who want to specialize in home health care can also seek out additional certifications like Advanced Competency in Home Health from the American Physical Therapy Association. Advanced certifications build upon your existing knowledge and skill set to help you deliver even better home-based patient care. They can also make you more appealing to potential employers, as they demonstrate a higher level of commitment, competence, and expertise in your chosen field of physical therapy.

For a more detailed look at what it takes to achieve a career as a home health PTA, check out our in-depth guide on how to become a home health physical therapist assistant.

Benefits of Home Health Care

Aside from the convenience of receiving care at home, home health care offers numerous additional benefits for homebound patients. In a traditional physical therapy clinic, PTs and PTAs may be bouncing back and forth between multiple patients, limiting the amount of time they can spend with each individual. Because home healthcare providers don’t have to juggle several patients at the same time, they’re able to provide more personalized attention and supervision during therapy sessions.

At a busy, understaffed physical therapy clinic, patients may finish a set of exercises and be left standing around waiting for their therapist or PTA to finish working with other people. In contrast, increased one-on-one attention in a home healthcare environment can lead to better patient outcomes and greater patient satisfaction.

For people with chronic health issues that require lots of support, home health care can also be an excellent way to alleviate pressure on family caregivers. Even the most selfless and kind-hearted person can eventually become burned out when they don’t have much time to themselves. Providers like home health PTAs can help improve their patients’ condition while also giving their long-term caregivers a chance to recharge.

Finally, home health care can also be a much more cost-effective approach than constantly traveling to a hospital, clinic, or rehabilitation facility. Inpatient care can be prohibitively expensive for many families, and receiving treatment at home can reduce the financial burden they face while accessing the care they need.

Technological Advancements in Home Health Care

Technology is redefining the healthcare landscape in almost every aspect, and home healthcare is no exception. Emerging tech like telehealth platforms make it possible for patients in remote or rural areas to receive personalized, high-quality care from PTAs or other providers without having to be physically present in the same location.

Wearable devices that track patient’s movement patterns, balance, and other data are another fast-advancing technology with major implications for physical therapy treatment. The information harnessed from these devices can provide valuable insights into how treatment is progressing and potentially identify patterns or issues that aren’t immediately obvious during a therapy session.

Virtual communication tools are another excellent tool for keeping patients connected with their PTA or other providers. These platforms may offer a direct line to providers or to a specially trained chatbot that can respond to frequently asked questions at any time of the day or night.

If a patient or their family has a question about their treatment plan or symptoms, getting informed answers as efficiently as possible helps keep their progress on track. It also enables taking quick action in the case of complications that could require medical attention.

Medical professional helping an Asian man perform exercises

Challenges Faced by PTAs in Home Health Care

Because home health care takes place in sometimes unpredictable living environments rather than a precisely organized clinic, it can come with some challenges and potential liabilities for physical therapist assistants. Without easy access to some of the specialized equipment you might find in a physical therapy facility, PTAs must take special precautions while moving their patients (and themselves) around a home-based therapy environment to minimize the risk of falls or other injuries.

Home health settings can also come with a higher risk of exposure to environmental hazards like infections and allergens or potentially even out-of-control pets or unstable family members. While most home care experiences are generally positive, it’s important for PTAs to speak up to their supervising therapist if they notice something that could compromise a patient’s safety—or anything that causes them to feel unsafe or uncomfortable themselves.

To ensure each patient receives a high standard of care, regulatory requirements also mandate extensive documentation among home health care providers. Keeping up with all the necessary paperwork is essential to protect yourself and your employer from liability and to ensure continuity of care between different healthcare teams.

Start Your Home Health Care PTA Journey at Provo College

Physical therapist assistants who work in home health care have the chance to witness incredible recoveries among some of their patients and to help many others greatly improve their standard of living. With the overall demand for healthcare services projected to rise significantly in coming years, home health PTAs should have many opportunities to make a positive impact in a rewarding profession.

The right PTA program can make a major difference in your long-term success as a physical therapist assistant. The Physical Therapist Assistant program at Provo College offers a flexible hybrid program that enables you to complete your degree in under two years while learning from PTAs with firsthand experience in different care settings. Whether you choose to specialize in home health care or another area of physical therapy, you’ll have an excellent foundation upon which to build a successful career.

Curious about the different directions you could potentially take your PTA career? Explore our detailed list of the top physical therapist assistant jobs and get a better feel for the many possibilities that come with earning your PTA degree.