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PT and the Greater Good

Restructuring
by Dean Metz

The very word can strike fear into many employees. In my previous experiences, that translated into layoffs, with those lucky enough to remain absorbing many of the jobs that used to be done by those laid off. The NHS has gone through a fair amount of restructuring in the past four years, so it has become nearly commonplace. Since 2009, I have worked for three different NHS trusts while working in the same job.

This time is different though. A colleague of mine has decided to move on to another role and resigned. Our business managers are beginning to think about not replacing like for like (a nurse for a nurse), but rather what does the job really entail and who would be best to perform that task. I think that is a brilliant approach to problem-solving and staffing appropriately.

The role I'm currently in is only a fixed-term temporary post filling in for someone (a nurse actually) while that person is seconded to another post. What this could mean for me is a permanent job and not having to start the job search all over again in August.

How could I be filling in for a nurse? Again, the managers stopped and looked at what the role entailed (acting as a consultant for residents of nursing homes who have fallen over). What matters is the skill set, not the title.

I hope I see more of this trend in thinking, particularly for my former colleagues back home in the US. I remember seeing job postings requiring a nursing degree and I would ask, "Why?" What was it about the job that required a nurse? Often it was simply historical and no other reason. As we become more highly skilled, with DPT degrees back home and the ability to prescribe over here, new doors should be opening for us. It is time for us to go where no PT has gone before!

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Unintended Consequences
by Dean Metz

A while back there was some chatter among us ADVANCE bloggers on the public health issue of obesity. Since having an elevated BMI can cause a host of health problems, and Westernized nations on the whole are getting heavier and heavier, this is an area where many PTs could possibly have some input. The discussion at the time of the blogs had to do with the former mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, and his ban on supersized sugary soft drinks.

A new paper has recently shone some light on how with the best of intentions, public health interventions can inadvertently cause harm. One of the most common areas where interventions went wrong was in regard to obesity. The harm ranged from the boomerang effect, where some people wound up developing anorexia after the interventions; to psychological, where others wound up with lowered self-esteem and the stigma of being labeled obese; to financial harm, with resources wasted on interventions that didn't work at all.

The reasons many of these harms happened varied as well, including poor evidence base for some interventions, poor engagement of the target population, poor establishment of the root cause of the problem, and implementing an intervention that worked in one group that was very different from the intended group.

These are all things I have to take into account when planning how to decrease the risk of falls in the people of the towns I work within. I know the key challenge I'm facing is engagement of the target population. Many of the older adults in this area feel falling is just part of getting older and there's nothing to be done about it. One of the first things we have to do is change that mindset.

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Presenting, Presenting, Presenting...
by Dean Metz

I got word today that the abstract for our study on the clinical and financial efficacy of our fall prevention clinic has been approved for a poster presentation at the annual Physiotherapy UK conference in Birmingham in October. I'm very pleased. While I was back in New York last year, the team here was collecting data. When I returned, we put it all together and were very pleased with the outcomes. It seems the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy was as well. This will make two presentations in three years. Not bad going, if I do say so myself.

Tomorrow I'm presenting at the strategy meeting on fall prevention for the local authority where I'm working. It's in conjunction with public health, third-sector (charity) stakeholders, and health service providers. Essentially this is about how to integrate all these stakeholders toward a common goal of reducing risk for our older and late-middle-aged adults. These meetings really excite me. How often would all these parties get together to work on common goals back in the US? On top of that, we're meeting monthly to assess progress, plan future initiatives, and ensure no gaps are left in addressing this public health problem.

If I'm very lucky, I'll also be presenting in London in May too. Our unit has been shortlisted for a national award based our work. We'll have to present to a panel on why we deserve the award and what makes our team and approach unique. I'm not able to go much into detail for a few weeks, but when I've been given the go ahead, you'll hear all about it.

Not that there was any real doubt, but I'm thinking coming back here was absolutely the right move for my career.

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Making a 'Very Bold Statement' to Physicians
by Dean Metz

A large part of my current position involves reducing the risk of falling for people in the community as well as those residing in care homes. That's what prevention is all about -- reducing risk. Not long ago, I received a phone call from an irate physician who took offense that a mere physiotherapist would write him a letter detailing which medications were potential culprits in the patient's falling.

"Are you implying I don't know my own patient's medications?"

"No sir, but we find it helpful to remind GPs of how many culprit medications a person may be taking."

"You're saying I don't know that?"

"Not you personally, sir, but I have had some GPs in the past who were not as well versed in a patient's current regimen."

"That is a very bold statement, sir!"

We discussed a little further and then discovered that indeed he had forgotten the patient was still on one particularly troublesome medication. Bold. Indeed.

To give GPs a break, they have precious little time to sit with older adults and figure out exactly what meds they should and should not be taking. Because there is such evidence that blood pressure medications reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease, nearly every older person is on at least one such medication.

Mary E. Tinetti, MD, just published an article in JAMA about the risks created by these very medicines. We now have excellent evidence that these medications are not merely innocuous, but rather can affect a large number of people in disastrous ways.

So which risk do we try to reduce? Use the medications and run the risk of a debilitating fall and/or fracture? Don't use the medications and run the risk of heart attack or stroke?

Prevention, like every other aspect of healthcare, is not a simple black-and-white situation.

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Now I'm Convinced
by Dean Metz

A few months back, a member of my family was in a business meeting when suddenly his right hand became spastic. He looked at the person he was meeting with and couldn't figure out why he was there or what they had been talking about for half an hour. He was having a stroke.

He was rushed to the local hospital in Florida and immediately received wonderful treatment in the emergency room. His wife joined him there and they were suddenly confronted with a screen that had a live feed from Rhode Island. The doctor who would be tending to him was nearly 1400 miles away. He was getting live feed from the monitors in West Palm and talking with the patient and his wife about options for treatment. They reached an informed decision, treatment was rendered, and now the former patient is back to work, playing golf, and virtually indistinguishable from his pre-stroke self.

I've railed against tele-health many times in previous blogs. Often because it's used as a cost-cutting measure, rather than a way to bring the best parties to the table in situations where it would have been otherwise impossible or where waiting could have resulted in a vastly different outcome. Imagine the potential for treating people in remote rural areas. How about the ability to supervise a PTA in a home care setting without both having to be in the same physical space at the same time? How about my fellow ADVANCE blogger Michael Kelley, who last week posted about some trepidation treating vestibular patients, being able to consult with a trusted expert hundreds of miles away?

We have the technology to make our lives, and the lives of our patients, more secure, more efficient, and better able to achieve positive outcomes. We must ensure it is used for the noblest outcomes in our profession. We need to embrace it and be innovative with how we use it. Skype, FaceTime, and a host of other providers can link us together for the better.

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A Culture of 'Don't!'
by Dean Metz

I was doing some research on a particular activity this week... head rolls. Not the soft round things one puts under one's neck to maintain the curve while supine, but the act of rolling the head around as an exercise or activity. I did this because I read an article in the popular press that said, "even physiotherapists say you shouldn't do head rolls anymore. They're too dangerous!" I thought about it, and although I haven't prescribed this for someone in recent memory (or at all that I can think of), I wanted to see if there was evidence to support the statement.

In terms of hard evidence, I came up with nothing. I did come up with pages of discussion on the topic from the members' section of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) though. Comments ranged from "Under no circumstances should anyone, ever do this!" to "If the body wasn't meant to move that way, it probably wouldn't." Granted, I probably accelerated the OA in my own neck by way too many Friday nights in the East Village of New York in the 1980s dancing the pogo and whipping my head around. Ah youth! There were a few reasoned discussions about athletes, dancers, and even jet pilots who would need to perform this activity to be able to function. Still a few physios held onto the belief that if an activity has any risk, it should be discouraged.

Since when have we become the profession of "Don't"? Shouldn't we be the profession of "Do... but do it right!" Our job is not to wrap every patient in cotton wool and tell them to avoid injury by avoiding doing things. Personal trainers, fitness "experts" and yoga instructors are teaching people how to keep doing things. (Oh, I just started yoga two months ago. Apparently I'm flirting with certain death according to some of the physios). These professionals may or may not be giving good information, but they are reaching the people we are not. Remember my post about working proactively and toward prevention? One good example of how we're not embracing that mindset on the whole.

So lets embrace, "I can help you do that better and safer!" whether it be a break dancer in the Bronx or a pensioner who wants to go shopping in Brighton. We are the ones for the job.

Do take my advice on the pogo though... don't revive it, it really isn't good for one's neck.

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What Part Will You Play in the Future of PT?
by Dean Metz

If you've read my last blog, which ranged from Facebook to Adweek, you may wonder what all that had to do with PT? Reasonable question actually. Physical therapy has the potential to impact greatly on improved health outcomes for every country. On the whole, we tend to be a reactive profession. We treat people once something has already happened. If we know best how to help people recover (which I believe we do), then why shouldn't we be the best to prevent injury and complications from illness?

We've spent a lot of time and money working to be more efficient, to get people better quicker, and to hone our skills to achieve those ends. Why don't we do the same thing for prevention? My cynical self says it's because there's no money in it. I suspect many of us wouldn't know how to begin. Some very well-meaning person may start a social media campaign... and we may wind up with, "If it's physical, it must be therapy!" (I'm glad we haven't seen those bumper stickers in over a decade).

I read my ADVANCE colleagues' blogs, and the responses to them, about how people don't really know what we do, or think we're glorified massage therapists, or worse, think we're useless (see my old post "Useless, Totally Useless"). Maybe the first step is to successfully heighten awareness of the good we do. Gretchen Reynolds, a fitness expert, writes weekly columns for The New York Times, many of them about how to prevent injury. Do any of you out there know of a PT who writes a column for a mainstream publication? Is it any wonder the public gravitates toward personal trainers, chiropractors and other more visible professions?

We can't depend wholly on the APTA to do that job for us either. Like the CSP here in England, they spend a lot of time and energy ensuring we can get paid for the work we do. Branding the profession needs to happen on a grassroots level. Letting the public know about what we do will take more than an e-blast or two. What can you do?

If you do nothing, don't complain if that bumper sticker starts being seen again.

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Public Health Campaigns That Work
by Dean Metz

A few years back, I was reading Facebook posts like this by my female friends:

"I like it on the floor."

"I like it on the kitchen table."

"I like it on the sofa."

This was an idea to get people wondering what everyone was talking about as a way to build awareness for breast cancer. What the women were doing was answering the question of where they put their purse/handbag when they came home. Clever, but did it serve its purpose? It was amusing, it caught people's attention, but did it raise awareness of breast cancer? Maybe among women in on the joke, but it resulted in a simple, "Oh, that's nice," from most of the people I know. Ladies, help me out here.

Did any of you who participated also go to a website and learn more about screening, or the signs to look out for, or actually give money to a cancer research organization? I took a fair amount of flack because I told some women friends that I thought it was the worst public health campaign possible. Why? Because it got people to participate in a way that made no difference, except to make people feel like they did something. My fear is many people would then think, "I've already done something for breast cancer this year," when really all they did was update their status on social media. Burnout with no turnout.

Compare that to the recent trend in the UK of no-makeup selfies. It probably won't happen often that my blog links to an article from Adweek, but there's a first time for everything. The difference between this campaign and the annual Facebook campaign is that it raised more than £2 million ($3 million USD) for Cancer Research UK. People visited the website, even if they only did so to make their £3 donation. Money was raised, odds are good that people looked over at least one thing on the website, and the message got out there. To me, that's what a successful public health campaign looks like.

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Teething Pains
by Dean Metz

Our multidisciplinary falls clinic started a few weeks ago. There have been a few challenges. My partner, a nurse, and I have had a few "discussions" about note-writing. I go for brevity and directness using the SBAR method. She is more of the old-school, "If it isn't as long as a Victor Hugo novel then we must have forgotten something." She is a brilliant nurse and once we negotiate our priorities on some issues, I think we'll work well together. The facilities are spacious... very spacious, particularly when our EKG machine goes missing to another clinic or the examination bed is claimed by another consultant.

Many of our patients are given transportation into the clinic. That's a really good thing, until the transportation runs late and we get the 9:00, 10:00 and 11:00 appointments all at 10:15 and the driver says he has to leave by 11:20.

Monday was the first full day of seeing patients. Up to this point we had been doing half-days to get over our learning curve and get a sense for how theory would become reality. We did OK. I was running around like a headless chicken for parts of the day, but everyone got seen. The notes all got written and letters to the doctors, referrals to other clinicians, and the medical team consultations all got sorted out. We were exhausted by the end of it.

Our capacity level is increasing, our very own examination bed and EKG are on order, and management is attending to the transportation issues. My colleagues are slowly getting over the shock of my East Coast directness and push for efficiency. I'm trying to recognize that nobody likes change and that I'm an outsider tasked with bringing about very rapid change. That will not endear me to many. That's OK, so long as it benefits the patients in the end.

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Beyond Multidisciplinary
by Dean Metz

Most of us are well familiar with a multidisciplinary approach to meeting all of a patient's needs. Input from doctors, nursing, OT, PT, speech, and social work help us to provide better outcomes for patients. Notice the key word there... patients. What about people? Once a person becomes a patient, something has already gone wrong. This is where my public health work starts to kick in.

Today I presented at a meeting that connected older adults falling over with cold homes and excessive winter mortalities (EWM). There were three people representing the health services, but most of the other attendees were from the local council, housing department, welfare office, telecare (the UK version of personal emergency response systems), and even someone from British Gas. There are so many risk factors for falls, but one of them is living in a cold home. In healthcare we're used to being reactive, whereas public health is more about being proactive. How do we prevent the fall from happening in the first place?

In my presentation on the risks for falling, the financial impact of falling on this community today, and the projections for the next 20 years, I was able to get the interest of people who thought they had nothing to do with fall prevention. By investing in some preventative programs now, such as ensuring older people have warm homes in the winter, we can avoid the financial burdens later on, freeing up money for other needs.

As PTs we know well the end results of accidents. We often have to figure out what caused them and we can apply that knowledge to preventing further accidents for others. That's the kind of service and work I want to be doing at this point in my career.

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Staffing Levels an Easy Problem to Fix... Badly
by Dean Metz

I've written a lot about the Francis inquiry into the failings of the Mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust. One of the most troubling findings was that in order to save costs, management had cut staff, primarily nursing, to levels that could not assure patients of a safe experience in that hospital. There is much chatter about what is a safe nurse-to-patient ratio going on right now. Notice that it is "nurse" to patient, not clinician to patient.

What could this mean? Physios could be sacrificed to provide a quick and easy fix to the nurse-to-patient ratio without changing overall costs to the NHS. This is dangerous because it doesn't really take into account the full spectrum of patient need, experience and outcomes. The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (CSP) has already mobilized to ensure this doesn't happen. They are preparing materials on how outcomes in different settings, services and teams are not dependent solely upon nursing. The emphasis will be on sustaining service quality, reflecting all staff roles, and potential risks to patients and safety.

What I really like about the CSP is how nimble they are. As the playing field changes, they respond immediately with proactive plans to address challenges as they arise. I always thought the NHS was a bureaucracy beyond compare, but it actually changes much quicker and more dramatically than CMS does back in the States. The CSP has to work at an equal if not quicker pace. For that I have no problem paying my annual dues.

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Finally Merging Physio and Public Health!
by Dean Metz

Next week I'm giving a presentation to the local authority and public health department on the problem of falling in older adults and what needs to be done about it. It's helpful that this is the same town I did my master's thesis on and that I'm starting up a falls service within.

What's really exciting is that nobody has the breadth of knowledge I do on this subject! I'll be giving the same presentation at the Northeast Regional Falls Group (a consortium of specialist doctors, nurses, physios, psychologists, and OTs from this region of the country) to demonstrate how the NHS (health services) and public health (prevention) can work together. The goal is not just how to deal with rehabilitating those who have fallen, but how to ensure fewer people fall over the next 20 years. During that time period, the population of older adults will grow by nearly 20% and the financial cost would be devastating.

I have prattled on about how physios (PTs) need to think beyond clinical degrees in order to effect change in the larger scope of things. An MPH, MBA, PhD, even MD will open doors not previously welcoming to PTs. It has taken me time, more than I expected, but I'm paving the way for younger PTs to assume leadership roles in the design, formation and implementation of healthcare. I think that degree might be paying off after all.

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What Do Scores Really Mean?
by Dean Metz

The National Health Service was in the news again this weekend, and not for good reasons.  The children's hospital in Bristol has a high mortality rate. The medical director of NHS England, Sir Bruce Keogh, has ordered an independent review of the matter, which is remarkable in that normally investigations have to go through numerous levels before getting his attention. The hospital's chief executive defended the "good clinical outcomes" of her Trust, pointing out "98 percent of its patients' parents said in a survey that they had received excellent, very good, or good care." Patient perceptions are "good clinical outcomes?" Really?

I've written before about the imbalance between qualitative and quantitative measures used here in the UK. Both are important and neither should stand alone. One of the most widely disputed targets here in England is the 4-hour maximum wait time in Accident and Emergency Departments. The mid-Staffordshire Trusts did very well on those quantitative measures, but people still wound up dying unnecessarily.

We seem to be forgetting why these measures are in place in the first place. We want to be able to determine if our services are actually doing what they're supposed to be doing; getting people well and treating them well. If all we're doing as leaders is trying to achieve a target, we will fail.

This is not a situation unique to the UK. One need only look at the Medicare website to compare hospitals, home care agencies, and now even physicians! In the past, I've used the tools available on this site to see the rankings of providers I knew. Some brilliant companies were ranked low while some dodgy ones were ranked highly. So what do we really learn from these scores and how does that help us shape the future of healthcare?

I'm reminded of the old saying, "The operation was a success. Too bad the patient died."

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Modern Travel Is Killing Us
by Dean Metz

I've just spent 10 hours on a plane. That is a long time and doesn't take into account the hour-long flight from Newcastle to Heathrow or the 3-hour layover in Heathrow. Of course I'm coming home to visit my mom, so it's worth it. However, I think we have the major airlines to thank for any future pain-relief work coming our way.

The equipment was an aging 747 which had been renovated a bit to seem newer. I always reserve an aisle seat so I can get up without disturbing anyone. There were two seats between me and the window. In those two seats was a lovely couple, very pleasant, not too chatty, and very obese.

She took up her own seat plus a quarter of his. He took up the remainder of his and part of mine -- even with the armrest down. He overflowed his seat and when we sat shoulder to shoulder, my trunk was laterally shifted to the left and my head hung in the aisle. I was afraid I would be decapitated every time the trolley went by! It was a completely full flight with not another seat on the plane (at least not in economy).

Don't even ask how mealtime went... Cirque de Soleil has nothing on the contortions we went through! Despite getting up frequently and spending a fair amount of time standing in the back near the restrooms, I was still pretty achy and uncomfortable by the time I got off that plane. To be fair, the gentleman (and he was indeed a gentleman) in the middle seat got the worst of it. Poor guy was wedged between the two armrests and could barely move for 10 hours.

Another flight I took over in September was even more cramped aboard a brand-new A380, the double-decker, where the seat was so narrow I couldn't sit on my own hands because there wasn't enough room. Now I'm no athlete but neither am I obese. That was also a tortuous flight.

As airlines try to squeeze more and more sellable space on their aircraft, people are getting more and more twisted at their expense. On a short flight, people can manage a slightly uncomfortable position for an hour or so if they're in reasonable health to begin with. A 10-hour flight? Nope, one needs PT after something like that.

I think we need PTs on the design teams at Boeing and Airbus! I think there needs to be some oversight as to what is permissible in aircraft design. I flew different carriers on both the trips I mentioned and both were equally painful. I can't afford to fly business class in those gorgeous individual pods that go nearly flat. Nope, I'm stuck with a narrow seat that's way too close to the one in front of me. When will the shrinkage stop? We are a captive audience that on occasion, just has to fly no matter how painful the price or the experience.

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Can We Afford the Gold Standard?
by Dean Metz

When I was getting my public health degree, we took numerous modules on statistics and research methods. One of the things we were taught, which I already knew, was that randomized clinical trial (RCT) was the best way to clearly answer a research question. It is the "gold standard." The other things we learned about RCTs were that they are time-consuming, the most expensive form of research, and contain some very ethical issues about who does and doesn't receive treatment.

The CMS has created the Innovation Center, which is looking at different ways to pay for and provide healthcare. What they are doing is a fair number of demonstration projects. What that means is they fund a project, evaluate the results, and apply mathematical models to determine things like efficacy, sustainability, and savings potential. I worked in a program in New York that began that way in 1998 and went on to become the benchmark in care management for the frail elderly as recognized by the Commonwealth Fund. There was no control group, yet the results bore out to be very beneficial.

Today, Gina Kolata of The New York Times (no friend to physical therapists after her article, "Treat Me but No Tricks Please") just came out with an article denouncing the Innovation Center as wasting funds because they're not using RCTs for most of their studies.

The responses are as interesting as her article. She's an MIT researcher by profession, so hardly an unbiased voice when commenting on this topic. It could mean whether or not she gets studies funded and articles to publish in professional journals.

So my question is: In this day and age, with shrinking resources and increasing demand, can we afford for all of our health policies to be based upon RCTs or should we make use of demonstration projects to accomplish more with less time and expense?

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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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