Achieving Value-Based Physical Therapy
If you help manage the health care of employees, there are three words you may have come to know that leave you feeling anxious … chronic, repetitive, stress. Many musculoskeletal diagnoses may be related to chronic repetitive stress, such as tennis elbow, plantar fasciitis, anterior knee pain, trochanteric bursitis, temporomandibular joint dysfunction; and two very common diagnoses, often related to work, include carpal tunnel syndrome and rotator cuff strain. As with any physical injury, ailment or disease, the rehabilitation process can be simple and, at other times, very complex.
When you think of chronic repetitive stress, do you visualize an overtreated musculoskeletal problem, costly for the employer, draining for the patient, and enduring for you? Have you ever seen a physical therapy referral requesting continuation at three times per week for six to eight weeks, following an excessive number of visits without evidence of progress? Have you ever wondered if physical therapy would ever end? Or why the patient would continue in the absence of progress? Do you find yourself feeling as though you have no authority to improve the situation, simply because it is directed by a medical doctor? If so, you will be pleased to know that this type of physical therapy is not to be considered standard care. This article brings hope for better results.
While health care providers and consumers become more focused around outcomes, the million dollar question is, “How can one determine, in advance, the most economical and effective pathway of rehabilitation for chronic-repetitive-stress injuries?” In other words, “How can one ensure value-based physical therapy?” As you begin to understand and apply the following physical therapy guidelines within your management of chronic-repetitive-stress injuries, you should be able to contribute more effectively toward value-based health care. And you will have a better understanding of how to address any lack of quality you may have tolerated in the past.
Five Elements of Patient Management
My professional training as a physical therapist involves performing a thorough examination followed by evaluation using professional skills to identify a physical therapy diagnosis and prognosis. A plan of care is established, which includes the interventions necessary to achieve the outlined goals. The American Physical Therapy Association identifies examination, evaluation, diagnosis, prognosis and interventions as “the five elements of patient management.” Consider this to be a foundation around which you may align your expectations to achieve physical therapy outcomes that are measurable, sustainable and functional. Patients and their advocates, like you, are beginning to contribute more assertively to achieve improved health care outcomes. In part, this is related to the rising cost of health care and diminishing outcomes. These five elements may be used as a guide toward achieving positive physical therapy outcomes as well as to help identify when physical therapy may not be appropriate.
In Depth: A Carpal Tunnel Case Study
|The physical therapist must document progress that is measurable, sustainable and functional. Physical therapy should promote the greatest patient independence with the least invasive interventions that will allow the expected outcomes to be achieved. Documentation must evince the necessity of the requested frequency/duration of care. A home exercise program can be very helpful throughout the entire rehabilitation process. A physician’s referral recommending physical therapy 3x/week for 8 weeks does not waive the professional requirement to validate outcomes and efficacy. Remember, the physical therapist must apply the five elements and follow other APTA guidelines. |
The physical therapy examination should include a history of the patient’s health care, a review of systems, and particular tests and measures. Two important outcomes of a thorough examination include: 1) To allow evaluation/determination of a physical therapy diagnosis and prognosis; and 2) To establish a measurable baseline of impairments (i.e., decreased range of motion) and functional limitations (i.e., inability to open a jar). A plan of care is then established. This includes precise physical therapy interventions that impact the patient’s impairments and functional limitations. Examples of interventions include manual therapy to mobilize joints and other tissues; therapeutic exercise to improve range of motion, strength, independent management, etc.; neuromuscular re-education to improve coordination, control, posture, etc.; aquatic therapy to normalize function with the assistance of buoyancy; and taping/bracing to improve stability and control.
The physical therapist should always have a rationale to support the utilization of each skilled intervention. Consider the rationale to be the science that supports the physical therapist’s choice of intervention. Think of each intervention as a mini-experiment in which there is a hypothesis followed by a controlled approach resulting in a measurable outcome. Comparison between the expected outcomes and the actual outcomes involves the professional evaluation process.
If care continues in the absence of constant evaluation, then it could be considered “non-skilled.” Non-skilled care is appropriately performed as a home exercise program. The home exercise program may be performed independently or with the assistance of other caregivers. Examples of caregivers include family, friends, coaches and personal trainers. It is important for the physical therapist to identify skilled versus non-skilled care, and to allocate resources accordingly, so care is cost-effective and efficient. Such conscientious utilization practices help to uphold the integrity, professionalism and value of the physical therapy profession.
Ideally, the patient will progress steadily toward the anticipated goals and expected outcomes. Since rehabilitation does not always follow a steady pathway, constant evaluation is imperative. Re-examination and plan modification is necessary at particular points of the rehabilitation process. Discharge occurs when the patient achieves the anticipated goals and expected outcomes. Discontinuation occurs when the patient is unable to progress, is no longer demonstrating progress, or chooses to discontinue.
Application of the five elements promotes outcome-based physical therapy of high value. A referral from a physician with a medical diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome, for instance, does not imply a particular treatment plan. It is the physical therapist’s professional responsibility to perform an appropriate examination, establish a diagnosis/prognosis, provide care accordingly, and coordinate with all members of the health care team.