"Physical therapy is not a subspecialty of the medical profession and physical therapists are not medical doctors; we are a separate profession that provides a unique service that physicians are unable and untrained to provide."

Letter to the AMA from the APTA, Dec 2009

Monday, September 17, 2012

Are Physical Therapy Students Risk Averse?

Do physical therapy students always choose the safe alternative?

Does $100,000 in debt cause students to vote for the status quo?

Do physical therapists and students feel so much anxiety over health care reform that they prefer to vote for short-run self-interests over long-run investments?

Outcomes measurement linked to physical therapist reimbursement was the subject of the 2012 Oxford Debate at the Florida Physical Therapy Association Meeting (FPTA) in Daytona Beach. The students and physical therapists in the room - about 400 - mainly voted against using these measures for payment.

I question if students, in these changing times, are prepared to put the interests of their patients and their profession ahead of their own interests. I can't really blame them. I was a student once, too. The future is uncertain and scary.

This student-led decision was reminiscent of the American Physical Therapy Association's (APTA) 2011 Annual Conference in Washington DC when a student-dominated audience voted against Clinical Decision Rules.

Oxford Debates pit two teams arguing contrary positions. Each team "wins" by persuading the audience to cheer, make noise or physically move from one side of the room to the other. The side with the most supporters wins the debate. Most Oxford Debates handle serious topics in a fun environment. Drinks are usually served.

This convention was well-attended by students, many of them from the University of St. Augustine. The student-dominated audience split about 60/40 against using patient outcomes to reward physical therapists.

Inadequate risk adjustment seemed to be the main reason outcome measures should not be used, according to the speakers and the audience. In other words, the measure would ONLY capture the outcome of care which might depend on factors other than the therapists' effort and skill.

For instance, if the patient does not do their home exercise program they will tend to have worse outcomes than if they do their exercises. Older people with multiple diseases will usually have worse outcome scores at baseline and at follow-up than younger people without disease.

We've recently heard similar arguments in the Chicago teachers' strike when school teachers objected to being paid based on the standardized test scores (outcomes) of their students. The teachers argued that many factors that affect test scores are beyond their control. Paying teachers based on test scores was unfair since many of the determinants of teacher performance happened outside of the classroom.

A physical therapy student at the Oxford Debate noted that the most important determinants of health also occur outside the physical therapy clinic. These determinants are things like the following:
  • family and social support 
  • a positive outlook 
  • educational level 
  • addictive behaviors, such as cigarette smoking 
  • level of activity
Young people are typically more tolerant of risk, according to standard economic thought. They have more years to make up any financial loss so they're supposed to be more willing to accept risk.

However, I think these students' behavior is rational.

Instead of pushing physical therapists and students to accept a reimbursement system that puts us at risk let's design a system that lets us think about patient care rather than worry about money.

What do you think?

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Tim Richardson, PT owns a private practice at Medical Arts Rehabilitation, Inc in Palmetto, Florida. The clinic website is at MedicalArtsRehab.com.

Bulletproof Expert Systems: Clinical Decision Support for Physical Therapists in the Outpatient Setting is a manager's workbook with stories, checklists, charts, graphs, tables, and templates describing how you can use paper-based or computerized tools to improve your clinic's Medicare compliance, process adherence and patient outcomes.

Tim has implemented a computerized Clinical Decision Support (CDS) system in his clinic since 2006 that serves as a Reminder, Alerting, Prompting and Predicting CDS using evidence-based tests and measures.

Tim can be reached at
TimRichPT@BulletproofPT.com .

"Make Decisions like Doctors"

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