Looking Ahead to the Future of PT: Highlights from Ascend 2016

During this year’s Ascend conference, the topic of payment reform—and healthcare reform in general—permeated nearly every presentation and discussion. After all, it’s completely redefining health care as we know it—and PTs, like their colleagues in virtually every other health discipline, are searching for ways to thrive in this evolving environment.

WebPT Ascend conference

On that note, out of the more than 15 sessions at the conference, there emerged three major calls to action for rehab therapy practices:

Define your “why.”

People—including patients—crave understanding and relatability. “As we get more connected through technology, we value human connection even more,” said speaker Chris Smith of the Campfire Effect. “This is why we need storytelling.” It’s also why PTs should craft personal origin stories that focus on the why and the how: why did you become a therapist? Why did you open your clinic? How do you help your patients improve their health? These stories should be succinct and clear––because that makes them far more powerful. By holding true to your origin story as you establish other elements of your business—including your branding, core values, and company culture—you’ll make it the driving force of your business. And that could be just what PTs need to become better advocates for themselves.

Leverage your data.

Outcomes tracking is no longer a maybe; it’s a must. With payments becoming increasingly tied to value, outcomes data is becoming absolutely vital—as it objectively proves that the provider’s performance is worth the payment. As APTQI Executive Director Troy Bage said, “In the pay-for-performance realm, we can’t have apathy. We’ve got to get past the apathy we have around outcomes, because pay-for-performance is here.” The key is embracing—and effectively using—software to organize, track, and leverage this type of information (which in many cases, is information you’re already collecting). Essentially, in today’s payment environment, technology is not merely an asset; it’s critical to survival.

Get involved and take action.

Rehab therapists face a unique predicament in being defined by their services—rather than their skills, expertise, talent, and ability to help their patients achieve optimal outcomes. The rehab therapy community’s long-held frustrations over the commoditisation of their profession were very apparent at Ascend. But, just because it has tainted the PT industry’s past doesn’t mean it has to define the future of rehab therapy. PTs have the ability to take back control over how they are valued. But to do so, they must familiarise themselves with PT-related legislative happenings and advocate for themselves at the state and national levels. “The APTA is only as good as the voices they can hear,” said Heidi Jannenga, co-founder and president of WebPT. Of course, those voices are only as strong as the evidence backing them up—which is another reason outcomes data-tracking is so important. Once PTs unite in their outcomes-tracking efforts—and collect their data consistently—they’ll be able to use it to its full potential: to demand better payment rates, foster better patient experiences, and achieve better population health. As Jannenga said, “The fee-for-service model is broken…We as therapists are defined by the services we provide. And that has to change…We have to prepare for success in the future. You have to start planning now on how you’re going to deliver valuable care and how you’re going to prove that value to payers.”

The changing healthcare landscape presents many challenges, but with those challenges comes a lot of opportunity—especially for PTs. But, to capitalise on those changes at scale, the entire industry must band together in an effort to ascend the rehab therapy profession.

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Catherine Sykes
Catherine Sykes
November 2, 2016 at 5:03 pm

Two thoughts arise in reading this report.
Outcomes are vital – no argument. But and it’s a big BUT whose outcomes? Outcomes take many forms. Impairment based outcomes – has the bone healed, does the joint move, is the muscle strong; activity based outcomes – can the person walk further, climb stairs, reach and pick up. Most important for the person are the participation out comes. Can the person do something now that they could not do before the intervention. Does that walking better translate to getting out and doing shopping, caring for another, going to work, playing a game. These are the outcomes that are rarely collected and rarely stated as goals of interventions; especially by funders.
Second point – if physical therapists do not describe what they do in a consistent and reliable way then the interventions will not be counted or measured and linked to reimbursement.The International Classification of Health Interventions is being developed to include rehabilitation interventions, public health and primary care where previously the focus was on medical and surgical interventions. Standard definitions of interventions with a standard reporting methodology should improve the evidence for physical therapy.

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