An increasing number of health systems and physicians’ offices have turned to physical therapy management services. Whether it’s to add value, better allocate resources, or increase financial returns, bringing in outside management can produce results for patients and health systems alike.
The effectiveness of physical therapy goes a long way toward lasting recovery. According to the Journal of the American Physical Therapy Association, functional decline during and after hospitalization is associated with an elevated risk of hospital readmission.
“We want to address lifestyle and movement dysfunctions and drill down to the root cause rather than, say, treating knee pain and being done,” says Brett Rivers, EXOS vice president of operations, physical therapy. “An integrated model is the best solution.”
Here are five things health systems should look for when choosing a physical therapy management service, and why each is important.
Physical therapists sometimes take a one-size-fits-all approach, treating an injury and restoring movement. That’s the primary goal, of course, but a modern physical therapy program views treatment within the prism of modern technology. That means providing cutting-edge techniques and integrating therapy with performance.
“We’re not shooting for simply recovery,” Rivers says. “We’re going to do a full analysis of your dysfunction and limitations, identify the root cause, and address it through an integrated program.”
Therapists typically see one patient an hour. It’s possible for therapists to see
more without compromising that valuable one-on-one interaction, so long as it stays within payer guidelines. If the last 15 minutes of a treatment involves a passive modality such as electric stimulation, the therapist can begin treatment on the next client.
“When payer guidelines allow it, we dovetail treatments to maximize productivity,” Rivers says. “We want therapists to do great work and know they’re productive and still go home at a normal hour.”
Hospitals tend to have a silo effect with physical therapy separated from the clinical side and the performance department in yet another area. Patients usually make it through physical therapy but often don’t realize the depth of services provided throughout the health system. They might, for instance, choose an imaging center off campus if they don’t realize there’s a more convenient one on-site.
“The physical therapy program should be a hub that not only provides great clinical treatment but also sends patients downstream to other hospital services,” Rivers says. “Maybe they’ve been seeing an orthopedist for years but now need a urologist or neurologist for the first time. The physical therapy department can be that community access point.”
In a similar vein, the physical therapy program can serve as a marketing arm for the health system. Physical therapy management services can include sending therapists into the community to speak to youth athletes or provide ergonomic assessments to businesses involved in manufacturing and distribution, for instance. Social media and the distribution of print materials can play a role.
“There are all types of outreach to grow awareness in physical therapy, performance training, and preventative care,” Rivers says. “We’re representing the health system but also the physical therapy profession and the scope of the practice.”
Effective physical therapy management recognizes the need for depth of specialization. Clients can range from elite athletes to the injured and inactive to the elderly. Each group can require a different approach.
Physical therapy services should help bridge the gap between traditional rehabilitation and performance training or return to activity.
“You want to combine both hands-on and exercise-based modalities with pain-
mitigating modalities,” Rivers says. “The goal isn’t just restoring movement and eliminating pain but giving the patient a program to prevent readmission regardless of their point in life.”
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