DOJ: News Release

McGrath Issues Ruling on Therapists

HELENA – Occupational therapists may not apply topical medication in conjunction with electricity in treating their patients, Attorney General Mike McGrath has concluded.

The attorney general’s opinion issued Monday arose out of a dispute between the board that licenses occupational therapists and the Montana Chapter of the American Physical Therapy Association. The board had ruled that occupational therapists were licensed to practice iontophoresis, a statutorily defined treatment in which therapists apply topical medication and then treat it with electricity to work the medication into the patient’s deep tissue.

Lon Mitchell, an attorney for the Board of Occupational Therapists, requested the opinion to resolve the dispute.

In the opinion, McGrath noted that Montana law specifically allows physical therapists to use topical medication prescribed by a physician in treating their patients, but does not authorize occupational therapists to provide that treatment. Occupational therapists are authorized to use electricity in treating their patients, but the laws outlining their responsibilities make no mention of applying topical medication or the practice of iontophoresis.

The opinion notes that “the legislature amended the physical therapy statutes in 1991 to define topical medications and authorized their application and administration.” And while the occupational therapy statutes were also amended in 1991 and 1993, “the legislature did not, in either of these instances, grant occupational therapists the authorization to apply or administer topical medications.”

An attorney general’s opinion carries the weight of law unless a court overturns it or the Legislature modifies the laws involved.

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