Research and Outcomes Lead the Way
(Editor's Note: Throughout the month of February, ADVANCE bloggers Lisa Mueller and Michael Kelley will post "Dueling Blogs," in which they argue opposing sides of the same issue. Topic #2 -- "What Drives the PT Profession?")
There are many different components to a physical therapist's career: patient interaction, documentation, reimbursement and finances, research, and management to name a few. Each of these impacts the therapist and the profession in different ways.
When the physical therapy profession began, around the time of polio in the early 1900s, I would argue that patient interaction was the primary driver of the profession. There was a clear need for restoration of physical function, and working with patients directly catapulted the profession to become defined as a separate entity from other healthcare roles. In the past few decades, physical therapy (along with the rest of healthcare) has been influenced heavily by reimbursement and third-party payers. Today, the future of the PT profession will be driven by research and improved patient outcomes.
We are living in a very transparent, competitive time. Our society is in the best position it has ever been to compare costs of providers and satisfaction with care. So, how are we going to move forward? By proving our value through research. Evidence showing the effectiveness of intervention by a physical therapist compared to other treatment options will speak loudly. Knowledge is power, and educating our patients on the research supporting their plan of care will drive the PT profession forward.
Patient outcomes are the other important driver in our practice. Patients, payers, referring sources, and even our colleagues have seen the qualitative value of our work, but the quantitative data will be critical in the future of our profession. Being able to show a patient progressing from wheelchair mobility to walking around the block compared to a patient improving by 20 feet on a 6-minute walk test in just one number is important. Sure, both patients improved but one made much bigger strides than the other. We need to be able to show that. Connecting the outcomes to research will tell a complete story of the role of physical therapists, and only we can be those storytellers.
The big question is -- drive the PT profession to what? What's next for us? Direct access has been accomplished. The APTA's Vision 2020 to have all physical therapists obtain their doctorate degree is just seven years away. How will we measure the next physical therapy accomplishment?
What do you think? What is the biggest driver of the physical therapy profession?