Rehabilitation is a medical specialty that involves restoring function for a person who has been disabled as a result of a disease, disorder or injury. It provides integrated, multidisciplinary care aimed at recovery of the whole person by addressing the patient’s physical, emotional, social and vocational needs.
The primary goal of rehabilitation is to help an individual achieve the highest level of function, independence and quality of life possible. There are many medical conditions that can be greatly improved with rehabilitation and many types of rehabilitation therapies.
The success of rehabilitation depends on many things, including:
- The nature and severity of the patient’s condition
- The degree of impairment or disability
- The patient’s overall health
- Family support
Treatment plans are designed to meet each patient’s unique needs, abilities and goals. Areas covered in rehabilitation programs may include one or more of the following:
- Self-care skills – feeding, bathing, dressing, etc.
- Physical care – nutrition, medication, skin care
- Mobility – walking or using a cane, wheelchair, etc.
- Respiratory care – breathing treatments, lung exercises, ventilator care
- Communication therapy – speech, writing, alternative methods
- Cognitive therapy – memory, concentration, problem-solving, organizational skills
- Vocational training – work-related skills
- Pain management – medication and alternative methods
- Psychological counseling – identifying problems and solutions with thinking, behavioral and emotional issues
- Family support – teaching family members to help with lifestyle changes, financial concerns, etc.
- Education – patient and family training about the individual’s condition, medical needs and adaptive techniques
Specialized areas of rehabilitation include:
- Cardiac rehabilitation – for patients who have experienced heart conditions and/or procedures including angina, heart attack, heart failure, bypass surgery, heart valve repair or replacement, heart transplant, angioplasty or peripheral artery disease
- Pulmonary rehabilitation – for patients with chronic lung diseases such as emphysema, bronchitis, sarcoidosis or Cystic Fibrosis
- Cancer rehabilitation – for people who have undergone treatment for cancer and need help with pain management or improving bowel/bladder function, nutritional status, physical strength or social/emotional status
- Musculoskeletal rehabilitation – for people with diseases, disorders or trauma to muscles or bones such as amputation, tendon tears, sports-related injury, arthritis and joint replacement
- Neurological rehabilitation – for patients with impairment of the nervous system resulting from strokes, infections, trauma, palsy, tumors, neuropathy, seizures, brain or spinal cord injury, degenerative disorders (Parkinson disease, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, etc.) and more
Rehabilitation therapy can be given in a variety of settings. Many patients who are in the hospital recovering from surgery, healing from an injury or being treated for a serious medical condition will require rehabilitation services as an important part of their treatment. This inpatient therapy is often the beginning of a process that will continue for an extended time. After a patient has been discharged from a hospital or clinic, continued therapy may be received at an extended care facility, at an outpatient physical therapy department or at home.
A rehabilitation program is specifically designed for each individual depending on the injury, disorder, or illness. A multidisciplinary team approach for care and service is the basis of rehabilitation treatment. Multidisciplinary refers to the fact that many different disciplines work together toward a common goal. The team is usually directed by a physiatrist, with other specialists playing important roles in the treatment and education process.
Team members involved depend on many factors, including patient need, facility resources, and insurance coverage for services.
A multidisciplinary team approach is needed for rehabilitation treatment to be successful. This means that many different specialists must work together toward the common goal of helping the patient achieve the highest level of function and well-being possible.
Many rehabilitation teams hold regular meetings, to discuss topics such as the patient's plan of care, progress, short- and long-term goals, discharge planning and continuation of care.
The rehabilitation team may include, but is not limited to, the following members:
- Patient and family – the most important members of the rehabilitation team
- Physiatrist – a doctor who evaluates and treats rehabilitation patients
- Rehabilitation nurse – a nurse who specializes in rehabilitative care and assists the patient in achieving maximum independence
- Case manager – helps plan, organize, coordinate, and monitor services and resources for the patient
- Clinical social worker – a professional counselor who helps coordinate discharge planning, referrals and possibly insurance issues
- Physical therapist – a therapist who helps restore function for patients with problems related to movement, muscle strength, exercise and joint function
- Occupational therapist – a therapist who helps restore function for patients with problems related to daily activities like work, school, family and leisure activities
- Respiratory therapist - helps treat and restore function for patients with airway and breathing problems
- Recreation therapist – a therapist who coordinates therapeutic recreation programs to help promote social skills and leisure activities
- Vocational therapist – a counselor who helps people with disabilities find and keep jobs
- Speech/language pathologist – a therapist who helps restore function for patients with cognitive, communication or swallowing issues
- Audiologist – a health care professional who specializes in the evaluation and treatment of hearing and hearing loss
- Registered dietitian – a nutritionist who evaluates and provides for the patient’s dietary needs based on his or her medical needs, eating abilities, and food preferences
- Psychiatrist or psychologist – a doctor or counselor who conducts thinking and learning assessments of the patient and helps the patient and family adjust to the disability
- Chaplain – a spiritual counselor who helps patients and families during crisis periods and serves as a liaison between the hospital and the home place of worship
- Prosthetist – a health care professional who makes and fits artificial body parts, such as an artificial leg or arm