Promoting Hand Therapy

The Philadelphia Hand Center educates communities and therapists both regionally and globally.

It is easy to take for granted the use of nimble and pain-free hands. Whether a patient is a construction worker with a tendon issue or a pianist with carpal tunnel syndrome, occupational therapists are ready to help at The Philadelphia Hand Center’s 18 locations found throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Their most recent facility opened in Willow Grove, Pa., in July 2016 and is ready to serve those in search of comprehensive care for hand ailments, including arthritis, DeQuervain’s disease, Dupuytren’s disease, fractures, dislocations and more.

Teaching the Community

Though most locations are based in southeastern Pennsylvania, PHC has expanded through southern New Jersey and up to Wilkes Barre, Pa. This provides more communities with the benefit of the multifaceted therapy approach.

“In general, I think expansion, with new openings of offices in locations outside of Philadelphia, will only help to target a more diverse patient population,” said Shanna Corbin, OTR/L, CHT. “This diversity will help PHC remain focused on appropriate care and treatments for a wide variety of people rather than specializing in helping only specific sectors of the community.”

In addition to serving patients in the local community who may require healthcare services from surgeons and occupational therapists, PHC has run a fellowship program since 1998.

More than 200 fellows have been put through a six-month clinical training program in the in Evelyn J. Mackin Fellowship in Hand Therapy.

In this program, they observe surgeries and case conferences as well as participate in orthotic fabrication labs and teaching opportunities at Thomas Jefferson University’s occupational therapy curriculum.

Terri Skirven, OTR/L, CHT, has worked at PHC for 23 years and noted that the fellowship program has recently added a one-year option at the request of the United States Air Force’s occupational therapy leadership.

“The additional training prepares the enlisted Air Force occupational therapist to function as a physician extender in deployed situations where there may be a scarcity of Air Force hand surgeons,” she said. “The Philadelphia Hand Center has recently established a similar agreement for the training of the United States Navy occupational therapists.”

“PHC’s Hand Therapy Fellowship program is special because we all take turns as a team to organize and conduct educational lectures for the fellows,” Corbin said. “That gives the therapists an opportunity to gain experience with teaching, as well as hone in on a particular interest or specialty, and offers the fellows an opportunity to learn information about a wide array of topics from a variety of different teaching styles. Since many of the lectures involve a lab component, the fellows have an opportunity to apply and practice their learned information in a hands-on fashion. This translates to higher-level patient care.”

PHC offers seven of these fellowship positions to interested healthcare professionals annually.

Serving Abroad

In addition to serving local communities, PHC also has made it a mission to help those in need. In January 2017, a team of hand surgeons and therapists will travel to Honduras for the 11th time.

_KBK3813The team, led by Randall Culp, MD, will spend a week at Hospital Escuela, a public teaching hospital in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, through the Health Volunteer Overseas organization. Seven to 10 volunteer occupational therapists, nurses, anesthesiologists and other orthopedic surgeons will take part in this trip.

“We spend our entire time meeting people – adults and children – evaluating their needs and providing surgery and care for as many as possible during our stay. It is truly so rewarding to see the face of a mother whose child will gain functionality in their hands, something they never had before. We see a lot of hard-working men who have untreated injuries, some which have prevented them from being able to use their entire arm. We are able to repair many of the injuries and give these husbands and fathers the ability to at least work and provide for their families,” Culp said. “Our goal is to leave them with skills they would have never otherwise obtained. It’s exhausting, but it’s so worth it.”

Though PHC takes the week to treat patients, their volunteer services extend well beyond the trip. Many of the surgeons from Honduras come to the United States to continue their training and take part in The Hand Rehabilitation Foundation’s annual symposium, an inclusive educational program for surgeons and therapists.

One-Team Approach

Unlike many facilities around the country that only offer hand surgery or hand therapy, PHC locations have included both hand surgery and hand therapy as well as the services of other healthcare professionals as a part of their practice since 1968.

Many of the occupational therapists who practice at PHC work alongside surgeons on a day-to-day basis to make sure that a patient’s goals and life circumstances are taken into consideration for their indivdualized course of treatment.

Skirven believes this “one team” full-service approach is a benefit to patients. “The hand surgeon and hand therapist work together to evaluate and then develop the patient’s treatment. Our patients do not have to worry about whether the therapist and surgeon are communicating – they are at the center of it,” she said. “After an appointment, the surgeon brings the patient over to the therapy unit to observe the discussion between the surgeon and therapist regarding their treatment plan. The surgeon communicates precautions and the therapist can check for any other special considerations. During the therapy sessions, the therapist has immediate access to the surgeon should there be any concerns or questions.”

This teamwork and the lasting effects of hand therapy, according Corbin, is part of why she loves working at PHC.

“I love being that go-to person for patients regarding their everyday questions related to function, pain and overall health,” she said. “As therapists, we have the pleasure of developing strong relationships with patients and are able to assist them with the process of re-establishing or achieving a higher quality of living and functioning. It is thrilling to see this transition for others.”

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