Collaboration is one of the quintessential keys to unlocking someone’s (or something’s) full potential. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’re trying to do, you will almost always be better for the input you seek from other experts. Through collaboration, it’s easier to find and fix mistakes, problem-solve from multiple angles, and grow as individuals. Knowing that, it’s only natural to apply this philosophy to patient care.
Oftentimes when we talk about patient treatment on this blog, we speak as though physical therapists, occupational therapists, or speech-language pathologists are the only healthcare professionals involved in their patients’ care plans—and that’s simply not true. Therapists are often part of larger interdisciplinary teams comprising different professionals working together toward a common goal: optimal patient outcomes.
To this end, adopting a team treatment system in your own practice can be a wonderful way to level up the patient experience, maximize patient volume, and improve clinic operations as a whole.
What is a team treatment system?
A team treatment system is exactly as it sounds: a collaborative effort between all those who treat the patient—from therapist to therapy assistant to extender. Each member of the therapy team provides care that falls within their specialized skill set. For instance:
- PTs would provide evaluations and manual therapy;
- PTAs would provide services like gait training and therapeutic exercise (assuming these fall under their state-specific scope of care); and
- extenders would assist patients with unattended modalities and transportation from room to room (again assuming these are within their local scope of care).
The key to this type of treatment philosophy is communication—especially with your patients. According to an Evidence in Motion article WebPT Co-Founder and Chief Clinical Officer, Heidi Jannenga, PT, DPT, ATC, wrote in a 2019, patients should be introduced to every person on their care team at the beginning of their treatment to help them understand that their care will come “from a dedicated cohort of people.”
With this approach, Jannenga was able to establish patient buy-in from the ground level, and help the multi-clinic practice she directed fully realize the benefits of a team treatment model.
1. Team treatment systems can create an excellent patient experience.
It’s not uncommon for patients—or even providers—to assume that more one-on-one time with a single provider will lead to the best outcomes. However, Jannenga believes the team treatment approach invalidates this opinion—if done correctly. “In my practice, we paired ATCs with our PTs—and both care team members were introduced to patients upon evaluation,” explained Jannenga. “We told patients that I was the PT in charge of their care plan, and I would see them every day, though the nature of that visit would change. Some days, I would see them for a quick assessment of progress and some manual therapy techniques; other days they would see me for the majority of the treatment session as warranted by their plan or schedule.”
As a result, Jannenga’s patients were almost always satisfied by the treatment style. “Very, very rarely did we have anyone say ‘I want to be seen only by the PT,’” added Jannenga. “That’s because this philosophy was explained from the very beginning, and therefore ingrained in our clinic’s culture.”
A team is only as strong as its individual players.
A word of caution from Jannenga: “This treatment style works only when everyone on the care team is providing the same level of peak quality care. If you use techs instead of more qualified providers like PTAs or ATCs, this could decrease your overall quality of care—unless the aide is highly trained or the PT is still providing a high amount of supervision.”
To add to that, when you have full confidence in the skills of your peers and know that they are always in pursuit of better patient outcomes, it’s a lot easier to adopt this treatment system. This system runs on trust—as well as collaboration!
2. It can boost patient volume.
When adopting a team treatment style (and leveraging it to its full potential), “you have the potential for increasing your clinic’s patient volume,” said Jannenga. To do so, Jannenga recommends divvying up tasks and filling everyone’s schedules with responsibilities specific to their abilities. “PTs can work on completing more evaluations in a week while PTAs and ATCs complete other activities with patients (e.g., balance training or therapeutic exercise). You could also task PTAs to lead the charge when seeing returning patients for follow-up appointments,” added Jannenga. This should improve the team’s productivity—without overloading anyone.
Get creative with team roles to tap new patient markets.
Depending on your state’s supervision rules, PTs could even work on other non-clinical (but no less important) tasks, like marketing or business management. From this seat, PTs can develop strategies that drive patient volume, enhance patient retention, and maximize patient reactivation rates—each of which are important to maintaining a healthy bottom line.
Alternatively, you can deploy select staff members (like ATCs) to external locations to help drum up patients via new referral channels. “Stationing ATCs in schools provides yet another avenue for referrals,” said Janenga. “If student-athletes have a relationship and rapport with an ATC, those athletes are more likely to seek external care from them. In other words, they may seek out your clinic specifically. This strengthens those patients’ continuity of care—from training room to PT clinic—and can help you develop a stronger relationship with the team doctor along the way.”
3. It provides a buffer when staff calls out sick or takes vacation.
Treating patients via a care team can also help minimize disruption to a patient’s care plan. If a therapist, assistant, or extender calls out sick or goes on vacation, patients won’t necessarily have to work with someone who’s totally unfamiliar with their care plan. They will have at least one familiar face to connect with—and that familiar face can communicate the patients’ progress and preferences to whoever else they may need to work with that day.
Some patients even postpone their care when their favorite clinician is out of the office—so, a team-based approach may even prevent patients taking a break during the middle of their care plan.
Good, functional, and healthy teamwork can help us accomplish amazing things. Why not apply it to the clinic? I’ll leave you with a quote from Mother Theresa that sums this up nicely: “None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful."