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How to Become a Rehab Liaison – The Ultimate Guide

A wonderful non-clinical job for physical therapists is a rehab liaison. I know this because I was one for over two years!

What is a rehab liaison?

Any inpatient rehabilitation facility (also called acute rehab or acute inpatient rehab) needs to fill its beds with patients. Without patients, the facility would need to close its doors. Keeping the census high is the job of a rehab intake liaison.

Rehab liaisons are usually physical therapists, occupational therapists, or nurses.

What does a rehab liaison do?

A rehab intake liaison spends his or her days performing a variety of actions, all of which are directly – or indirectly – related to that end goal of bringing patients into the facility. But it’s not just patients in beds that make a liaison successful. Those patients need to be appropriate for acute inpatient rehab in the first place.

That’s why a general sales or marketing person won’t cut it in a liaison role; someone with a therapy or nursing background is always preferred.

A rehab liaison will spend his or her days in a variety of ways, including, but not limited to:

  • Responding to evaluation orders
  • Evaluating patients (not physically, but in more of a case manager role)
  • Admitting as many appropriate patients to their facility as possible
  • Obtaining as many patient referrals as possible
  • Spreading the word about the facility to physicians, nurses, case managers, and the general public
  • Representing the facility at various marketing and social functions
Some other names for a rehab liaison include: intake coordinator, rehab intake liaison, rehab coordinator, clinical liaison, and clinical rehab liaison.

Generally, the rehab liaison will start his or her day responding to evaluation orders, just like a normal physical therapist would. Orders are written by physicians, nurses, or case managers, and might come from the same facility where the liaison works, or they might come from a different facility.

Once the order is received and confirmed to be accurate, the liaison’s job is to identify whether a particular patient will qualify for, and benefit from, acute inpatient rehab.

An acute inpatient rehab facility is also called an “IRF,” or inpatient rehabilitation facility, by Medicare. Generally speaking, it’s an intensive form of physical, occupational, and/or speech therapy, involving a minimum of 3 hours per day, 5 days per week of rehab. Stays for patients tend to be 1-4 weeks, though this may vary based on insurance.

There are many considerations when looking at whether a patient will qualify for acute rehab. Some of these include:

  • Insurance coverage – Different insurance companies will cover different diagnoses, ages, and conditions. The rules are always changing, so most intake teams keep a comprehensive database of insurance policies, which they update regularly.
  • Age – Certain diagnoses, such as hip fractures, are covered, but only for certain age groups.
  • Prior level of function (PLOF) – If a patient was bed-bound and confused prior to admission to a hospital, chances are they won’t qualify for acute inpatient rehab. But if the patient was mod A, or even max A with a committed family member, and now they’re total A, they might still qualify.
  • Current level of function – As noted above, a patient’s level of function plays a key role in whether they’re admitted to inpatient rehab. If their current level of function is total A and they’re making very slow progress with therapy, even if they were independent before their current diagnosis, they might be better suited for a longer-term rehab option, such as a SNF.
  • Diagnosis – Which diagnoses are accepted will depend on the types of insurance(s) the facility accepts, among other factors. Typically, neuro diagnoses are almost always accepted (if the patient meets other criteria), while musculoskeletal or medical diagnoses are more hit-or-miss.
  • Length of stay in the hospital – A 1-2 day hospital stay might not qualify a patient, unless they had a clear neuro diagnosis or one of several other scenarios. But someone who was in the hospital for 3 weeks with pneumonia might qualify under debility. You’ll learn more about this on the job 🙂
  • Medical history – Some insurances will only cover neuro diagnoses but, in some cases, a history of a CVA or TBI will enable an otherwise unqualified patient to attend. Again, these are things you’d learn on the job!

Much of this information will be obtained through case notes that a case manager will provide. In some cases, the liaison will have to obtain these notes directly from treating therapists, including physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech therapists.

Rehab liaisons spend a lot of time traveling from facility to facility, evaluating patients and meeting with family members. They also spend a lot of time on the phone with insurance companies, as well as filling out paperwork and faxing information to insurance companies to get coverage.

Rehab liaisons also coordinate the transfer of patients to the acute inpatient rehab facility, ensuring a seamless experience. For example, the liaison will be responsible for making sure a diabetic-friendly dinner is waiting for an amputee patient when they arrive late at night.

Most importantly, a rehab liaison must truly understand whether acute inpatient rehab, which is very expensive to provide, is actually medically necessary for a patient.

For example, a patient who just had a stroke might benefit greatly from 2 weeks of acute inpatient rehab, but if he or she can make similar gains through home health physical therapy or outpatient physical therapy, Medicare may deny payment.

Some inpatient rehab facilities will use Medicare’s acute inpatient rehab criteria for all patients, Medicare or not. This is because Medicare’s guidelines are often used as the benchmarks for other types of insurance. Many facilities will accept patients on a cash-pay basis, and have separate paperwork and conversations that need to be had.

Even if you’re not interested in being a rehab liaison, it’s helpful to understand the Medicare acute inpatient rehab criteria if you work in pretty much any setting where patients need discharge planning . This can help any physical therapist make a recommendation to a patient’s physician if he/she feels the patient would benefit for a rehab stay.

Additional duties of a rehab intake liaison

  • Marketing. Liaisons will attend community events, doctors’ days events, and drop off baskets around the holidays.
  • Analytics. Rehab liaisons are expected to analyze their numbers month-over-month to determine admission trends and tweak job duties accordingly.

What does a rehab liaison job pay?

Any financially savvy physical therapist or clinician saddled with physical therapy student loans will be wanting to know what a typical rehab liaison job will pay. I can only speak from my own experience, but the pay was good! I worked on a per diem basis, and I made the standard per diem pay for a PT at that facility. The same would have gone for any OT, nurse, ST, etc., who took the role.

From what I understand, the same applies for the part and full-time rehab liaisons; the pay is very similar to a treating therapist.

Rehab liaison pros:

  • It’s a wonderful way to stay involved in the physical therapy field without the strain on your body. You will be evaluating, providing patient education, and working directly with therapy and nursing teams to synthesize information about patients.
  • You still get to work in a multidisciplinary environment with other clinicians. Unlike going to a purely non-clinical role, a rehab liaison role is a happy medium between the physical and emotional demands of patient care and leaving the field altogether.
  • You still use your clinical reasoning skills every day. One of the reasons why rehab facilities opt to hire physical therapists for rehab liaison roles is that they’ve got the experience to truly understand how quickly patients with different presentations will progress with intensive therapy. Having worked with patients in the past, PTs can determine whether a patient can handle 3 hours of intensive therapy per day, and also whether that patient will make enough gains to return home within a short time period.
  • It’s an interesting, varied job, where no two days are ever the same. Just like hands-on physical therapy, you’ll find that patients present with incredibly diverse medical and social histories, and no two cases are alike.
  • You’re not exposed to as many contagions as a treating therapist. This is great for immunocompromised folks, pregnant therapists, and people who are on the germaphobic side of the spectrum 🙂

Rehab liaison cons:

  • You won’t really be using your PT skills in any physical manner. You might get rusty with manual therapy skills.
  • Turning down patients who don’t qualify can be painful for patients, their families, and even you. Saying “no” isn’t easy.
  • It’s a numbers game. If you’re not comfortable with meeting census quotas, the role might not be for you. That said, some facilities are more stringent with demands than others. My facility was very understanding when our census dropped.
  • You are frequently dealing with situations where a patient’s insurance changes or premiums weren’t paid on time. Sometimes, you have to rescind offers to join your program.
  • The job can get stressful. When the orders are flying in, it can be tough to manage how to prioritize evaluating new patients, managing existing patients’ families questions, and working with insurance companies. Luckily, many facilities have a per diem and/or part time liaison for when things get busy.

You may now be wondering how to actually become a rehab intake liaison.

The best candidates, from a hiring manager’s perspective, have the following traits:

  • Adaptable
  • Able to understand insurance constraints and keep abreast of changes to policies
  • Understanding/compassionate
  • Detail oriented with excellent written and verbal communication skills
  • Have experience working in acute care and/or inpatient rehab or case management
  • Well-connected. This is not necessary, but if you’ve jumped around and worked in multiple facilities, it can actually work to your advantage in this case!

Preparing your physical therapy resume for a rehab liaison job

For a rehab liaison job, it’s all about creating the right physical therapy resume. You want to show that you’ve got experience with the following:

  • Marketing
  • Networking
  • Meeting quotas

Highlight things like your productivity, any in-services you’ve given, and make sure you play up your interpersonal skills and any existing connections/relationships you have with nurses, case managers, referring physicians, etc.

Liaison jobs are also great for physical therapists who’ve worked in multiple settings in a single city, because you have good connections. Be sure to say things like, “Collaborated with physicians and case managers to establish discharge plans for medically complex patients.”

What to remove from your resume: If you have extensive experience with manual skills and an impressive pedigree of manual therapy courses, that’s great. But they don’t really belong on the resume because they’re not relevant to this role. Rather, if you have experience with floating between settings (demonstrating adaptability), working directly with case managers/nurses/physicians, or marketing facilities, play up these experiences on your resume.

Preparing your physical therapy cover letter for a rehab liaison job

  1. Start with the basics. Make sure that you write a physical therapy cover letter that stands out in the first place.
  2. Understand the facility. Ensure that you cover information you know about the facility, and flatter the facility for its special marks, including: exceptional customer service/impressive outcomes/unique types of therapy used or services offered
  3. Explain how some of your own experiences translate to the job. Does your experience working the front desk of a busy clinic enable you to do an incredible job of providing a seamless, welcoming, experience with patients? Does your quota-based home health job make you numbers-driven and eager to perform? Do you have existing relationships with case managers and/or physicians at a top referring facility?

Where ARE these rehab liaison jobs?

Great question! Right now, they’re best found in the following ways:

We’ve got you covered

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Meredith Castin

Meredith is a physical therapist in San Diego. She is the founder of The Non-Clinical PT and co-founder of NewGradPhysicalTherapy.com. Meredith is passionate about giving clinicians the tools to create careers they love, no matter what paths they choose!

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4 Comments

  1. Hi Meredith,

    I am looking to into a rehab liaison as a potential next job. I have only been a clinical OT, so I was wondering if you know of any continuing education that would look good to employers looking to hire a therapist new to this job. Any recommendations?

    1. Hi Brittany! This is a good question. I would look for courses in case management and compliance. There’s no course on how to become a liaison that I know of, and I think the following traits will be as helpful as coursework when you apply for liaison jobs: having an outgoing personality, having the ability to network and communicate well in person, and being able to sell a product or service you believe in. Hope this helps!

  2. Hello Meredith. I’m curious if you are still a rehab liaison? And if not, what were your reasons for leaving?

    1. Hi Sean! I am no longer in the role, but only because I left to focus on my entrepreneurial pursuits 🙂 I am now a freelance writer, and also run The Non-Clinical PT, a site devoted to helping PTs use their degrees in non-clinical settings. Let me know if you have any questions!

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