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Can Physiotherapists be Called a Doctor? What Does the Law Say

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Physiotherapists are clinical experts who offer treatment to patients suffering from physical problems due to injury, disease, illness, and aging. The physiotherapists must possess extensive scientific and clinical knowledge which are required to assess, diagnose and treat illnesses and the patients' conditions.


There has been an ongoing debate for years that who all can be called as doctors in India as there are a number of healthcare streams in the country. However, in a judgment released by Supreme Court (SC) way back in 1996, it was held that medical practitioners who have an MBBS degree and above are alone referred to as doctors. Physiotherapists register with their council as therapists only and cannot prefix their names with the title of ‘Dr’. The Madras High Court had also said that even Ayurveda and Siddha practitioners should not use this title.

However, the Indian Association of Physiotherapists has a different story to tell. According to the association, physiotherapists can use the title ‘Dr’ before their names and the Medical Council of India (MCI) and the Indian Medical Association (IMA) have no statutory power to regulate the profession in India. The General Secretary of IAP has started a trial against IMA and MCI for defaming the professionals by asking them not to call themselves as doctors. They also said that physiotherapist will prefix their names with ‘Dr’ and suffix the same with (PT) and write physiotherapist in all their communications.

The Rehabilitation Council of India Act, 1994

The RCI Act was enacted in 1994 to regulate the training of rehabilitation professions and to maintain a central rehabilitation register for all the matters connected to these professions. According to Section 2 in xvii chapter of the RCI Act, the term ‘physiotherapist’ refers to a rehabilitation professional. Thus, Indian physiotherapist are regulated by the provisions of the RCI Act and its rules and regulations.

The act also states that physiotherapists are not allowed to practice medicine and to prescribe drugs, especially the scheduled drugs that are listed in the Drugs and the Cosmetics Act on their own. They do not possess the recognised qualification as mentioned in the Indian Medical Council Act 1956. Also, they cannot and should not claim themselves to be a specialist medical practitioner by prefixing ‘Dr’ with their name in their prescription. Practicing this is an offense in the eyes of the law and the said person is a quack and can be dealt with imprisonment or penalty or both.

SC’s verdict

The SC says that the Section 15 (2) (b) of the 1956 Act prohibits all practitioners from practicing and prescribing modern scientific medicine in any state and in any medical branch except the medical practitioner who has been enrolled in the Medical Register of the state. It further elaborates that the term ‘doctor’ should be used only by the practitioners of Allopathic systems of Medicine that has been recognised by the Government of India. The term should not be considered for modes of therapies. The physiotherapists are not allowed to portray themselves as registered medical practitioners by prefixing the word ‘Dr’ with their name. If they are found guilty, then they are considered to have committed an offense under different sections of the Indian Penal code.

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