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Phys Ther. 2007 Jun;87(6):641-53. Epub 2007 May 15.

Disabling our diagnostic dilemmas.

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  • 1Graduate Programs in Physical Therapy, MGH Institute of Health Professions, Boston, MA 02129, USA.


The physical therapy profession's diagnostic dilemma results from its confused response to competing issues that affect the physical therapist's role as a diagnostician. The major components of the diagnostic dilemma are: (1) the competition among new ideas, (2) the complexity of the diagnostic process and language used to describe the outcome, (3) the profession's lack of consensus regarding the diagnostic classification construct to be embraced, and (4) the rapid evolution and impact of new knowledge. The interaction of these 4 components results in "diagnostic disablement." Whether managing a patient, creating a curriculum to educate new physical therapy practitioners, or applying for research funding to study the science or practice of diagnostic classification, physical therapists face a real challenge in understanding and complying with all the current diagnostic requirements of the US health care system and the physical therapy profession. This article traces the 4 components and considers the strategies the profession can use to resolve its diagnostic dilemma. The first step would be to standardize the language that physical therapists use to describe or diagnose phenomena within their scope of practice.

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