Experienced Pediatric Physiatrist Brings Specialized Care to St. Charles Rehabilitation

By Jennifer Webster
Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Patricia Tan, MD, FAAPMR, a pediatric physiatrist with more than 30 years of experience, has joined St. Charles Hospital, which is an established leader in rehabilitation on Long Island and beyond.

Dr. Tan is board-certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation and pediatric rehabilitation medicine. She is well known in the region and a familiar face at St. Charles Hospital, where she served as a staff physiatrist from 1996 to 2003 and as Medical Director of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation from 2001 to 2003. Dr. Tan returned to St. Charles from Columbia University Medical Center where she worked as a pediatric physiatrist.

Her medical specialization is a natural fit at St. Charles, where she appreciates the opportunity to continue the work and legacy of those who came before her as part of a more than century long mission of providing compassionate care for children in need of rehabilitation and specialty care services. It is St. Charles’ keen focus on patient-centered care that feels most congruent with her calling.

At St. Charles, Dr. Tan evaluates and treats patients with muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, traumatic injury and a host of physically and neurologically complex conditions. For her, each day is a busy one, every hour guided by a passion to put patients first and be truly present for each child and family she sees. Dr. Tan starts her morning with rounds in St. Charles Hospital’s pediatric rehabilitation unit. Every week, she reviews patients’ progress and goals at multidisciplinary care team meetings. Dr. Tan meets with patients’ families as well. Lunch, she says, is often dedicated to teaching, with in-services for staff and residents or lunch-and-learns with local physicians. During her week, Dr. Tan also sees patients on an outpatient basis at St. Charles Hospital’s Outpatient Specialty Care Center and St. Charles Rehabilitation’s outpatient network location in Melville.

Additionally, she remains current on research about best practices in rehabilitation medicine and educates other physicians about her work.

A Range of Hard-to-Find Resources

By seeing patients in multiple settings, Dr. Tan’s provides patients greater access to her specialized services.

“I know it’s difficult for some of our patients to travel,” Dr. Tan says. “I take it upon myself to do the traveling for them.”

Dr. Tan offers a range of procedures and services not easily found elsewhere on Long Island, including evaluation for durable medical equipment, prosthetics and orthotics, splints and braces, Botox injections for spasticity or excessive drooling, intrathecal baclofen pump therapy, and more.

“My goal is to improve the quality of life for my patients and their families,” she says. “Many of the patients I see live with conditions, such as cerebral palsy, for which there is no cure. We use evidence-based procedures to restore and maintain function and mobility. For example, we can perform multi-level chemodenervation injections under sedation using ultrasound or electrical stimulation guidance to decrease muscle tone.”

Functional outcome tests before and after each procedure, Dr. Tan adds, help establish if patients are moving toward their goals, while also laying a foundation of evidence for the care of future patients.

Most important, these procedures and services are part of a coordinated approach to care, where all team members — physiatrist, pediatric hospitalists, nurses, speech and language pathologists, physical and occupational therapists, music and recreational therapists, prosthetic and orthotic specialists, dietitians and nutritionists, and social workers — are in communication about the best treatment plan for each child.

Dr. Tan also offers another rare gift — time. Outpatient sessions are long enough to allow for answering all questions, and even performing multiple injections in an unhurried manner. If a child needs more than four injections, she adds, he or she may warrant sedation. This is another method used to avoid “white coat syndrome,” a fear of physicians, in children who will likely have to see many physicians throughout their lives.

Furthering a Patient-Centered Mission

Dr. Tan also does outreach through lunch-and-learn sessions with community pediatricians, for instance, or through visiting private practices.

“The administration at St. Charles supports my outreach to other physicians to educate them about what pediatric physiatry does and when to send us their patients,” she says.

This outreach is necessary because pediatric physiatry is a rare specialty with fewer than 300 board-certified pediatric physiatrists nationwide. It’s this sense of scarcity that motivates Dr. Tan to treat as many patients as possible and educate as many physicians as possible. She knows that the caliber of rehabilitation services at St. Charles can be difficult to find.

“I can’t stop because there are so few of us,” Dr. Tan says. “It’s our mission as a specialty. Plus, my team members and I must teach, research, spend time with our families and be happy in our own lives. This balance reflects in the patient care we deliver. We must be happy so we can provide happiness. We must be complete ourselves so we can provide complete and compassionate care to our patients.”

A Philosophy of Happiness

Working with patients, many of whose conditions are lifelong, Dr. Tan not only shares treatments but also a can-do optimism that’s infectious. She and the therapists she partners with prepare children to live as fully as possible. They establish child-centered — rather than treatment-centered — goals, reflecting the patients’ desires and ambitions.

“A clinical goal may be ankle dorsiflexion of 5 degrees, but we need to translate that to ‘walking better’ so the child can feel better and gain weight,” she says.

She describes a child with spasticity, who was also having trouble gaining weight. After the neurosurgeon performed a specialized procedure, selective dorsal rhizotomy, to decrease muscle tone, the child’s mother reported that he was eating her breakfast as well as his own.

“I told her, ‘It’s not magic. Now that he is in rehabilitation, his tone has improved, he’s working muscles he’s never used before, so he’s hungry!’” Dr. Tan exclaims. “His mom was thrilled.”

Make a Referral

Children with a wide range of conditions, from short-term to lifelong and from simple to complex, can benefit greatly from pediatric rehabilitation, as can trauma survivors and patients who have undergone complex surgery. Area physicians are encouraged to reach out to Dr. Tan with any questions about a particular patient or about St. Charles Rehabilitation’s range of services. Dr. Tan can see patients across a wide catchment area. In addition to caring for children undergoing acute intensive inpatient rehabilitation at St. Charles, she sees outpatients at St. Charles in Port Jefferson and Melville.

To learn more, visit stcharlesrehab.org/pediatric-rehabilitation-program.