Primary Care Physical Therapists’ Experiences When Screening for Serious Pathologies Among Their Patients: A Qualitative Study

Cecilie Rud Budtz, Helle Rønn-Smidt, Janus Nikolaj Laust Thomsen, Rikke Pilegaard Hansen, David Høyrup Christiansen

Publikation: Bidrag til tidsskriftTidsskriftsartikelForskningpeer review


Objective. A vital part of the initial examination performed by a physical therapist is to establish whether the patient would
benefit from physical therapist intervention. This process includes knowledge about contraindications for treatment and
screening for serious pathologies. However, little is known about the physical therapists’ views and thoughts about their own
practice when screening for serious pathologies. The purpose of this study was to explore the experience gained by physical
therapists when screening for serious pathologies among their patients.
Methods. This was a qualitative study based on individual semi-structured interviews with 9 primary care physical therapists.
The interviews were analyzed using reflexive thematic analysis, and generated themes were explained and reported with
relevant quotes.
Results. Three overall themes were generated: (1) the role of physical therapists in the diagnostic process; (2) responsibility
from the individual to the group; and (3) the difficult task of cooperation. The physical therapists described how they
relied more on their clinical suspicion than on asking red-flag questions when screening for serious pathologies. They also
questioned their differential diagnostic abilities. Finally, they saw a potential to further enhance their confidence in the area
by reflecting on the matter with colleagues and by receiving more feedback about their clinical reasoning regarding serious
pathologies from general practitioners.
Conclusion. These findings suggest that physical therapists primarily rely on their clinical suspicion when screening for
serious pathologies but at the same time are uncertain about their differential diagnostic abilities.
Impact. These findings can inform future interventions targeting the physical therapists’ abilities to detect serious pathology
TidsskriftPhysical Therapy
Udgave nummer5
Sider (fra-til)1-8
Antal sider8
StatusUdgivet - 2022


  • Kliniske undersøgelsesmetoder, laboratorieteknologi og radiografi
  • Red Flags
  • primary care
  • qualitative
  • serious pathology