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PT and the Greater Good

How the USA Could Kill the British NHS
by Dean Metz

There is currently a huge issue facing Britain as Scotland votes this week on whether or not to leave the United Kingdom. While watching a debate on the BBC this morning, I learned about something else that could have devastating effects on the National Health Service. That something is the EU/US Free Trade Agreement or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Interestingly, Alex Salmond, the first Minister of Scotland and the leader behind the "Yes" campaign for independence, has vowed to exclude the Scottish NHS from this agreement if they win independence.

Although the NHS is technically a social service, which would normally be exempt from this type of agreement, the Health and Social Care Act of 2012 opened up the NHS to market competition thereby included in these types of agreements.

Such agreements tend to favor the least restrictive rules of the parties involved, which means the more commercial interests of US companies would outweigh the policies put in place by English government. For instance, there are caps on drug prices here in England. The new agreement would mean that in order for US companies to compete, those caps would be removed, meaning skyrocketing costs for patients. It also means that US corporations can sue the British government if any legislation could potentially limit future profits. So if a medical device had to undergo more stringent scrutiny here than in the US, the manufacturer could press legal action for future damages.

What really surprises me is how little I knew about this topic until today. I'm someone who works to keep on top of health issues on both sides of the pond! I wonder how many of my colleagues know about the impact of this agreement? I've been vocal about my support for nationalized health care and for the NHS. It would be devastating to see decades of work be lost with this agreement. Somehow I think that is exactly what the coalition government wants though.

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High-Deductible Health Plans
by Dean Metz

Even though I'm living in England and enjoy the national health insurance, I still follow what is going on in the USA insurance market. I read a disturbing article in the New York Times this week about people choosing high-deductible insurance plans.

It got me thinking about the dangers of these types of policies. Most importantly would people put off getting care for conditions when they were relatively easy to treat because of costs? The old saying that "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" comes to mind.

I did a little research on the topic. It seems that high-deductible plans are actually a good call for certain people. Those making enough money to afford care for relatively minor issues benefit. Also, those whose employers contribute into health savings accounts (HSA) really can benefit! An employer can contribute up to $6550 annually for a family plan, which can then roll over year after year. The maximum a family can put in annually is currently $2500. That can add up to a tidy sum. This is especially helpful as it can function almost like an IRA and be accessed tax-free after age 65.

But what about the people who are struggling just to pay the lower premiums? Will they not seek treatment, like the woman in the article above? Will they wind up driving the cost of healthcare up when they're admitted to hospitals in crisis situations for something that could have been treated in their PCP's office weeks earlier? Are these policies in effect the same as having no coverage at all?

The current annual limit on what insurers can demand from individuals for deductibles and co-payments is $6350. The amount for families is $12,500. A high-deductible plan might be right for you... if you have that extra lying around or in an HSA.

"Interesting," you may be saying," but what has this got to do with PT?" Well if you run your own practice, is it good enough that people would pay out of pocket for your services? Given the current trend in insurance, it better be or you could find yourself out of business.

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Two Weeks an Expert
by Dean Metz

I am involved with a networking group of rehab therapists (PT, OT, SLP) that's based back in the US. Earlier this week a member requested information on how to set up a fall prevention program. She was very enthusiastic about the need for such a program where she lived and was looking to start working in a private/home health sort of way. I can see a niche for that!

She admitted she had no experience in that particular area and asked if the group could provide resources so she could cram as much as possible into the next two weeks. She was going to give a presentation to the local community complete with handouts and brochures.

I gave her a link to a very good resource and voiced my opinion that a two-week time frame was indeed, very ambitious. In truth, I was angry. This goes back to a fellow ADVANCE blogger's posting about specialists in different areas of physical therapy. I've worked years to gather the knowledge I have on falls, to build the hands-on experience in assessment and treatment, and to know the implications of medications on those who fall. I've spent time working with other experts in this field (not just physical therapists, but nurses and doctors as well). This person is going to do that in two weeks?

At the best, I can envision this person creating an innocuous service, one that does no harm, may do a bit of good, but can't be anything near what many of her clients will need it to be in terms of multifactorial assessment. At the worst, another group of clients talking around the pool about how therapy is "useless, totally useless."

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A Permanent Placement
by Dean Metz

For the past year, I've been working in a "fixed-term" position. What that means is that I have a contract for exactly 11 months. The post is not guaranteed to run past the end of October. Fortunately, a position became available in the same NHS Trust but for a neighboring locality. I've interviewed and been given the job, which is permanent. I hadn't been stressing out, or so I thought, about being in a temporary job. But I do feel a strong sense of relief knowing that there's no defined endpoint to this job.

There is another significant piece of information about the job; I'm the first physiotherapist to take on this role. There is a mandate for NHS Trusts to have a falls specialist in their staff mix. It's almost always a nurse, primarily because there's a need for pharmacological expertise that many physiotherapists don't have... except for me. Being the first physiotherapist brings a fair amount of excitement, responsibility and scrutiny with it. I think I'm ready for all of the above!

The post requires a fair amount of clinical work as well as networking with local authority (town council) and third-party providers. It will also have an impact on local policy and strategy. These are the things I've been hoping to be involved with and why I got my degree in public health. On the surface, this post has the best of all possible worlds for me. Let's see how it plays out!

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That's Why I Gave Up the Theater
by Dean Metz

When I was a younger lad, I was one of those starving actor, dancer, waiter people living in New York in the 1980s. It was a life of classes and auditions and endlessly being told, "Thanks, we'll let you know." Translation: You didn't get the part.

I once auditioned for the first touring company of the Broadway play Biloxi Blues by Neil Simon. The first audition was 1000 guys who looked just like me, and me. I got a call back! The second was 500 guys and me. This went on for 9 months and eight callbacks until there was just one other guy standing between a Broadway show and me. Well, I didn't get it. It was that moment when I knew I didn't want to be an actor anymore. I could handle rejection when I was in a sea of people, but not when I had gotten so close.

You may recall from previous blogs that our service was a finalist for a National Patient Safety Award. We didn't get it. I had also put in a grant application for funding a joint project with public health. We didn't get it. Ugh, it feels just like being that starving waiter in New York again!

I must confess, I was feeling a little discouraged and cynical when a colleague suggested we put an application in for another award for our service outcomes. I talked it over with my spouse, a research professor at a university. He has been awarded more grants and published more papers than I could ever imagine. Even he is having a tough time getting funding with the current budget restraints. He still continues to apply. Just today he put in for two more grants.

So I got myself off the pity pot and did a rough draft of an application for the Quality Improvement Project awards. Sure, rejection is still disappointing, but I'm confident in our work. I'll keep putting it forward until it gets the part.

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Interstate Practice
by Dean Metz

One of the things that surprised me when I first moved to the United Kingdom was that my registration (equivalent to licensing) was valid not only in England, but also in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. If I suddenly got an offer in Edinburgh or Cardiff, I could simply accept it and go. No additional paperwork.

I've held multiple licenses in New York, Florida, and even California at one point in the US. That required multiple fees, keeping track of continuing education requirements for each state, and numerous applications and renewals. Frankly, it was a royal pain and rather expensive.

The American Medical Association (AMA) is now putting forth the idea of interstate practice. This would reduce the burden on physicians who could practice in more than one state. For instance, a doctor who lives in Westchester County in New York could easily work in either Connecticut or New Jersey. If one lives on a state line, say the four corners of Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, the employment opportunities would really open up! It may not mean much if one lives in the center of a large state like Texas or in an isolated state like Alaska, at least not until your spouse gets relocated to another state.

The nursing profession is also considering a similar plan. As technology advances, doors would open in the world of tele-health and remote practicing as well!

Would you benefit from an interstate licensure? Do you know of any plans for this in our profession? Are there any drawbacks you can think of?

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Evidence-Based... Astrology?
by Dean Metz

For the past 5 years, I've spent a fair amount of time talking to people about the reality of the National Health Service (NHS) in England. That it is actually a very good service and an organization I'm rather proud to work within. I've worked hard to convince friends, family, and readers back in the USA that every horrible thing they've heard about it is not true. There really isn't a 3-year wait for a hip replacement, really.

Now along comes David Tredinnick, MP (Minister of Parliament) and member of the health committee and science and technology committee in government. The right, honorable gentleman has come forward saying that astrology should be offered along with other complementary and alternative therapies for patients

Oh my.

I actually like astrology. I've had my chart read, I read horoscopes on Facebook, and I find it an interesting pastime. That doesn't mean I think it should be part of a treatment option nor should one make life decisions based on the practice. As professionals, we move more and more into evidence-based practice and away from the "voodoo" treatments identified by Gina Kolata in her damning New York Times piece printed in 2010

We have worked long and hard to prove that what we do is effective, reproducible, and provides value for money for our patients. I certainly don't want to go backward to "voodoo" therapy.

There are some complementary treatments, such as acupuncture, which do have evidence to support their usage. Fantastic! I'm all for pushing boundaries so long as something holds up to scrutiny. It troubles me that there are people supporting this man's ideas. It troubles me even more that he's on a health committee. I suppose I have only one piece of advice for this fine gentleman. It comes from another Englishman from quite a few years back. "The fault, dear Minister, lies not in our stars, but in ourselves."

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‘Can You Back That Up?'
by Dean Metz

I was asked that question last week by a board member of the NHS Trust in which I work. Rather a few members are making the rounds of different services to see how things are working (or not) and to assess if they are getting monetary value for those services. We were well prepared. We had the results of a yearlong audit showing excellent clinical outcomes and positive financial outcomes.

The board member who asked the question is very involved with budgets and reimbursements. We were able to give answers based on a fair amount of research and costing data. They asked us questions for nearly 2 hours. When they left, one commented that this visit wasn't anything like what they expected, but was so much better than they had hoped for.

As I'm developing a similar service in another town, I now also have to back up claims on potential outcomes, both clinical and financial. I'm glad I've got the experience and data to see me through this process! I didn't get them overnight though. This isn't something one can "cram" for in a weekend.

It has been 5 years of developing a culture of data collection in our service and getting others on board with understanding the importance behind a variety of evidence. It has meant working closely with other disciplines to achieve common goals in running an excellent service. In these times of tight and tightening budgets, one must always have data to support one's service. This means a culture of self-reflection, on both personal and group levels.

Does your clinic/practice regularly audit itself? What does it look at? To survive and even thrive these days, it isn't enough to be ready for a JCAHO, Medicare or state DOH survey. One has to be ready for the owners to show up and ask why your service does what it does and the way it does it. Are you ready?

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The SNF Rehab Model Must Change
by Dean Metz

I've learned immense amounts about what my American PT colleagues are going through just to work these days. It disheartened me at first, inspired me next, and now has propelled me to think more creatively. I think it may be time to throw out the baby with the bathwater... and the tub... and the sink... heck let's just rip down the house! The SNF rehab model doesn't work! If owners can't make a profit without professionals having to work off the books, overtime, and destroying their professional lives... it is a failed business model, plain and simple.

I started thinking about this because there are very few SNF rehab facilities here in the UK. Our town (population 283,000) has one with a capacity of about 20 people. Mostly acute TBI patients, acute trauma patients, and an occasional person with a stroke occupy those beds. Care homes here are staffed mostly by CNAs with some nursing oversight. If rehab is required, it is referred out to community teams (the equivalent of home care).

Where has the American SNF model evolved from? Has it actually been changed to maximize reimbursements? With so many stories of inappropriate patients on program, I seriously doubt it has evolved from patient need or demand! I also seriously doubt the situation will improve as time goes on.

Here is where the APTA can step in and not appear to be working as a trade union! They can ask the important questions, such as: Are the patients still benefiting from this model? Who does this model serve? What possibilities exist for changing sub-acute rehab into a more workable model?

In this way they can support us as professionals, demonstrate our ability to be proactive and leaders in patient care, and have a voice in creating the care landscape of the future. If they want us all to have the respect that comes with the DPT and autonomy, then they can't let us work for free in a sweatshop environment. Who is going to respect us when we work in that fashion?

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Effective Agents for Change
by Dean Metz

Two weeks ago I attended, and presented a poster, at a seminar on change within the National Health Service (NHS). We were asked to present because we had excellent outcomes in our service and we got them by doing things differently than other services had done. It was an enlightening day. The primary speaker, Helen Bevan, gave a fantastic presentation on how to effect change in the NHS. I want to share some of her thoughts with you.

"Be a boat rocker... but stay in the boat!"

Radicals, rebels and mavericks are generally not embraced in business, especially at non-management levels, however most great ideas and changes come from them. Some key points to being "different" in an organization: don't break rules -- change them; don't complain -- create; don't see problems -- see possibilities; don't point fingers -- pinpoint causes. She had many more, but these characteristics will help get a point across better than negativity.

She emphasized that successful boat rockers have the following characteristics: they are value-driven, have a sense of self-efficacy, collaborate, achieve small wins to build cohesion, and are optimistic.

So what does this have to do with productivity? First try and empathize with your director/administrator. This person is under pressure from owners to produce! Offer potential solutions to any obstacle you raise. Is there waste in the way things are run in your facility? Do you have a solution that might be easy to implement? Suggest it! Don't be discouraged if nobody listens at first. Keep coming up with possibilities, your enthusiasm will get you support until you become a force that cannot be ignored.

Learn about management; especially lean management. Managers can interpret data to support changes. The same can't be said for opinions and feelings. When we proposed the changes to our service, management was very doubtful, but by having our statistics and service agreement contracts clear, through a lean management approach we validated our ideas and brought management on board. The result was happier patients, realistic workloads, and exceptional clinical outcomes.

It can be done and more than a few people who have responded to my blogs in recent weeks have told me ways they have succeeded. Sometimes we may find ourselves working for "the evil empire," as one of my ADVANCE blogger colleagues called her old employer. A company that so lost its soul she had no choice but to leave. You might face the same dilemma too, but at least give it your best shot to turn things around!

As a non-therapist friend once said, "If you don't want to be a doormat, get up off the floor."

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Productivity: Why Bother Speaking Out?
by Dean Metz

I was asked in a private message, "What are your goals in speaking out about the productivity issues facing therapists in nursing homes (and private practices) today?" A good question! We can whine and complain all we want; very little will come of that activity. If we complain to excess, people will stop listening. So what do we do?

Here is why we need therapists to get research active! It would be interesting to see how outcomes compare between facilities that are productivity-focused versus those that are more patient-centered. Facility-provided outcome data would probably not be helpful. If a facility is willing to fudge data just to get patients on program, how likely would it be to manipulate other data as well?

Instead, what would the re-hospitalization rate look like? How would patients rate their own improvement? What would rates of return to work or sports look like? There is a whole PhD project waiting to be designed and written about this.

I still haven't really answered why I'm speaking out. As bothered as I am that my fellow therapists are being mistreated, I'm even angrier that patients will be the ones really suffering from being on this rehab conveyor belt. If you're working at 90% productivity regularly, tell me, how well do the majority of your patients meet their goals? Could they have done better if you had time to case conference with family or other professionals?

How many patients had limited improvement because they weren't really appropriate in the first place? How much money is being spent from scant resources on unnecessary treatment? What is happening to our professions' reputation? Struggling to meet insane productivity levels hurts more than just the therapy staff.

Maybe, like me, you're not in a place to pursue this as a PhD project. I'll talk about an interesting approach to effecting change on a local level in the next blog post.

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Consent for Professional Abuse
by Dean Metz

If you're thinking this is a post about patient consent, it's not. Last week I wrote about the nearly unachievable productivity levels in skilled nursing facilities. I got a lot of responses from it. A former classmate wrote to tell me he was just separated from his employer due to saying "no" to unreasonable productivity levels.

Professionals are working off the books, unpaid overtime, or making themselves exhausted trying to cram everything into 7.5 hours a day. As professionals we're expected to practice based on the evidence base. Why should our employers behave differently? Productivity should be based on evidence, not randomly picked numbers.

There are many options for our employers to effectively determine what reasonable expectations for productivity are. My ADVANCE colleague, Lisa Mueller, has written about lean management. It's an objective way of maximizing productivity. It focuses on process, flow and the elimination of waste. There's nothing wrong with asking employers how they came up with productivity expectations. If they balk at the question, the odds are good there was no real process to figuring out the numbers. Do you really want to work for a company like that?

We have spent good money and/or gone into debt to learn the skills of care management, care planning, patient and caregiver education, interdisciplinary meetings, and documentation. Why shouldn't we expect to be reimbursed for those skills? They most often are part of the job description when working in an SNF.

Unless one is a business owner in private practice or receives some sort of profit-sharing bonus, one should expect to be paid for all the work one does. When one starts working without reimbursement, then consent has been given for professional abuse. On occasion, we all have worked a few hours over here and there. Generally in those instances, my employers have allowed me to take that time back at a later date. That is not what I'm reading in the posts of many of my fellow ADVANCE bloggers.

The APTA is striving for us to have nearly complete autonomy as professionals. If we keep allowing ourselves to be abused by employers in this fashion, that goal will most likely stay out of reach. If we can't stand up for ourselves, how can we be expected to stand up for our patients? That's why I believe the APTA needs to be part of this discussion.

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Productivity Woes
by Dean Metz

Many of my fellow ADVANCE bloggers have been voicing concerns over productivity standards where they work. There is concern over not being able to reach targets and still do required work that's not billable; concern over working on one's own time; concern over patient outcomes; and concern of personal burnout and exhaustion.

They are not alone. I've recently come across an excellent piece by a speech-language pathologist on the same issue. What value is there in measuring productivity? General Motors sold 9.7 million cars last year... very productive. But they've already recalled 16.5 million cars this year. So although they got the product out the door, what good did it do them or their stockholders? Isn't that exactly what's going on in SNFs in the US now?

Somehow we need to know that employees are working optimally. Gross numbers are a bad way to measure that. If the product is without quality, then who cares about how many things get made or the number of people who get seen? Also people lie about numbers -- just look at the current VA scandal about misreported waiting times!

When we balk at doing work on our own time, managers can manipulate the situation by reminding us about our professional responsibility or how we should keep the patient in mind. Where will they be should an audit turn up questionable billing or when an unhappy family files a lawsuit? Will they be there to defend you or will they point the finger and simply hire another PT? Although the APTA is not a trade union, they must not remain silent on poor treatment of PT professionals in the SNF settings.

What does this mean beyond those therapists toiling away in sweatshop-like conditions, wondering if they could get fired for missing targets or speaking out? (Which, by the way, is perfectly legal in states with "at-will" employment).

It means that the public is not getting the services it needs in the right amount at the right time. Errors in process or documentation are more likely to impact this vulnerable population. Unscrupulous companies looking to maximize their short-term earnings are pillaging the resources set aside for the needs of this population. SNFs are raping the Medicare system now the way home health did in the early 1990s. If there are no funds left by the time we need them, we'll have only ourselves to blame for not speaking out now.

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My Mentor, My Inspiration
by Dean Metz

For my birthday, I've treated myself to phone calls to friends and family back in the States. I just got off the line with the person who I can say is the reason I became a PT/physiotherapist. I had been in my mid-20s and the whole starving actor gig was more starving than acting and it really wasn't much fun.

I figured that if I wasn't having any fun, I could at least make some better money, so I started my quest for what I wanted to be should I some day grow up. A friend was running a small private PT practice in Brooklyn at the time and I met her for lunch one day at her office. I was early, and with the permission of her patients, I got to watch what she did. I was hooked! She has provided gentle guidance along with the occasional kick in the pants ever since.

We did the usual catching up on the phone today, asking about each other's spouses, trips and such. We also talked about how the practice of PT is changing and what that means for future PTs and ourselves. I was able to tell her about our award nominations, presenting at Physiotherapy UK 2014 in October, and about the grant I applied for this week. I was very touched by her response. "You've successfully reinvented yourself, more than a few times! But you did it in a way that also benefits humanity. The work you're doing is remarkable."

I became a PT because I wanted to help people (and make a living). I didn't expect to have found my calling nor to be in a position now where I can impact a population on a large scale. I suppose the best birthday gift I got this year was the admiration and approval of my mentor.

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Yes, There's a Need for What I'm Doing
by Dean Metz

This morning I learned that a piece of my childhood had passed on. Ann B. Davis, one of the actors in "The Brady Bunch" (new grads, ask your parents, they'll remember) slipped while getting out of the shower, hit her head and died.

This is really unfortunate. I've read that she needed a walker to get around. I wonder if she had assistance in the shower or was she attempting it on her own? Could she really manage to bathe on her own? Were there rubber mats and/or grab bars in place? Was there anything that could have prevented this outcome?

Working with older adults, I know too well that many of them do not wish to "go gentle into that good night." Nope, they will kick and scream all the while you are showing them how much their gait has improved with the use of a cane. I imagine I will probably be much the same if and when the time comes.

Prevention is so much better than cure, but nobody seems to want it. This is the dilemma I'm confronting with my projects here in the UK. How am I going about dealing with it? I'm targeting the children and caregivers of older adults! My thought is that if I can educate them on how to look after their parents successfully, they'll apply those same ideas to themselves 10-15 years down the road when they become the "at-risk" population.

Will it work? I'm not sure. I suppose I'll be the one creating the evidence if it does. One thing I do know for sure -- no country will be able to afford the medical care necessary when this group reaches that age unless we take action now.

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About this Blog

    Dean Metz
    Occupation: Staff Development Specialist
    Setting: New York, NY – Newcastle Upon Tyne, Great Britain
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