How to demonstrate physical therapists’ value through clinical outcomes data

With contributions from Karen Chesbrough, MPH*, American Physical Therapy Association

PPS 2016 may be behind us, but the impact of the conference grows as we continue to think about the information presented in the sessions and how we can use it in practice.

Heather Smith, PT, MPH**, Director of Quality at APTA, and I had the opportunity to talk about the use of outcomes data to demonstrate the value of physical therapy services in that “coveted” late Friday afternoon session. We weren’t quite sure what kind of turnout we would get considering all the temptations and distractions a Friday afternoon in Vegas can offer – especially after an intense few days of learning and networking. Well, I’m happy to say, the house was packed.

A Growing Desire for Outcomes Data

Obviously, the need for more information on how we should measure value and outcomes in our practices continues to grow. Physical therapists ARE interested in providing value-based services, but they need access to the tools that will help them get there as well as support in integrating them into the clinical workflow. During our PPS session, we talked a lot about the value of physical therapist services. Healthcare consumers are facing ever increasing deductibles and are shopping around for the best value. Patients don’t want to cut corners on necessary care, but they are looking to see what providers can deliver the best outcomes for their dollars spent. Payers want the same as well. As I pointed out from a 2015 Harvard Business Review, process improvements can boost the quality of care for our patients and deliver better outcomes.

Simultaneously, acts of process improvement can reduce practice variation and work towards appropriate service utilization through collaboration with stakeholders. At Intermountain Healthcare, we have been collecting and using outcomes data for several years. Sometimes, it isn’t easy to take a look at your data and see that you aren’t performing as well as you thought you were. But, this is exactly what physical therapists should be doing. If you aren’t collecting your outcomes data, you will not get a sense of where you can improve. Keep in mind that improvement probably won’t be overnight and examination of data should be a continuous process.

So, what does the data mean?

Some providers are waiting for our current “Fee for Service” system of payment to end before they act.  Supported by articles published in the Harvard Business Review, I explained why this is both a poor business strategy as well as a decision that will negatively impact the quality of care we deliver to patients. Heather Smith emphasized that physical therapists need to know how to use their data, but they also need to know what their data means.

Healthcare consumers and payers are figuring this out, too. Technology such as electronic health records and outcome management systems like the Physical Therapy Outcomes Registry are tools that practitioners can use to capture their data and tabulate the outcomes. The outcomes data can then be examined to see if and/or how process improvements can be made. Smith speculated during our session that value-based payment models are becoming a reality and participation will not be optional in the next few years. Essentially, get used to and incorporate methods for the value-based model now before you’re faced with heavy penalties.

When a practice begins thinking about improving value in physical therapist services, measurement and continual refinement to improve are the keys.

*Karen Chesbrough is the director of the Physical Therapy Outcomes Registry at APTA.

**Heather Smith is a team member of the Physical Therapy Outcomes Registry at APTA.


Stephen Hunter, PT, DPT, OCS


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