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“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Although this African proverb can be applied to a number of scenarios, it happens to perfectly encapsulate why we do what we do at WebPT. And more specifically, it underscores the main reason we decided to create our annual business summit, Ascend.
Having just wrapped our ninth annual Ascend business summit, I’m still thinking about what a great time it was. As with every year, Ascend 2022 was teeming with exceptional educational content (delivered by some of the best and brightest in rehab), cutting-edge therapy products, and peer-to-peer networking opportunities—all with the intent to help rehab therapy professionals improve their practice. What made this year stand out, however, was that it was our first in-person Ascend since 2019.
While we’ve done our best to curate the same Ascend experience and feel through virtual means these past two years, there’s nothing quite like being in the same room as the people you’re talking, problem-solving, strategizing, learning, and laughing with. As the proverb implies, everything is better when we’re together—and Ascend 2022 was proof of that.
If you missed out, don’t worry—we’ll be announcing our 2023 Ascend date and location soon! In the meantime, I’ve put together some of the main takeaways from this year’s sessions (with a bonus at the end).
We must shift our mindsets from “win or lose” to “win and learn.”
This year, we had an incredible keynote speaker, Karen Allen, who is a mindset expert, TEDx speaker, and founder of the 100% Human movement. What is a mindset expert, you ask? Essentially, Allen empowers teams and leaders to harness the power of their mindset and develop the self-awareness necessary to overcome challenges and achieve their full potential.
Not only did Allen get us up and out of our seats, she taught us how to get out of our comfort zones and into a growth mindset. A big part of that was in teaching us the value of shifting our perception from “win or lose” to “win and learn.”
Take Risks, Keep Trying
Growth happens when we are willing to get uncomfortable, take risks, and keep trying until we get it right. And in order for rehab therapy professionals to secure a more permanent—and more prominent—place for themselves within the medical community, risks will have to be made. These could be in the form of:
Providing new service offerings (which could also be a great chance to get your feet wet in the cash-pay space);
Getting a retail program up and running or add new retail items to your clinic;
Finding new ways to partner with other clinics in your area (e.g., hosting community events, stretching classes, sports leagues or tournaments, health fairs, seasonal events);
Creating more opportunities to develop meaningful relationships with the people within your community.
When taking risks, however, make sure they’re a justifiable move for your patients’ and community’s needs. Looking into your clinic’s past and current patients—as well as expanding your research to include the demographics of your area—can give you a clear picture of what services, retail items, and events would be most valuable to your community. In turn, this information will become highly valuable to define your program’s goals and what exactly you’re trying to achieve.
Just remember: If something doesn’t go to plan or the wheels begin to come off, don’t look at it as a failure—keep iterating. Even if you don’t win, you’ll learn.
We must keep our focus on employee engagement.
Employees have always been and will always be the greatest asset to your clinic. However, these past two years have thrown so much our way—disrupting our norms and turning our operations on their head. And yet, it forced many of us to work on our business when we couldn’t work within it. As a result, we doubled down on our operational efficiencies to help us weather the storm and rebuild what we had lost—and a big part of that was refocusing on our staff.
In one of the Ascend sessions, a speaker discussed how these challenges taught clinic leaders some very valuable lessons on how to improve employee engagement in order to endure these hardships. While the external threats have begun to lighten, we cannot afford to forget these lessons as we all know that the lion’s share of our business’s success rests on the empowerment of its people. After all, disengaged rehab therapists can create a slew of problems for your organization, including:
Increased patient cancellation rates
Lower NPS scores
Substandard documentation (placing you at a heightened risk for denials)
Pandemic or not, no organization can afford a disengaged employee. So, here’s what you can do to prevent that.
Defining Engagement in Your Practice
The first step to improving employee engagement in your clinic is to define what exactly that means to your team and your business. According to this article by SHRM, there is a subtle yet important difference between employee engagement and job satisfaction: “The level of employee job satisfaction in an organization often relates to factors over which the organization has control (such as pay, benefits and job security), whereas engagement levels are largely in direct control or significantly influenced by the employee's manager (through job assignments, trust, recognition, day-to-day communications, etc.).”
From this, clinic owners can infer what really drives employee engagement:
Belief in the organization’s future success
Trust that the leadership team has the business’s and employees’ best interests at heart
Engaging in meaningful work and understanding how that work makes an impact on successful outcomes (both patient- and business-related)
Opportunities for personal and professional growth
We must hone our approach to promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion in practice.
While our largely monoethnic industry has witnessed incremental growth in diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts, we have only scratched the surface. While I’ve talked and written extensively on this topic, this is a conversation that must continue to evolve and expand, regardless of how uncomfortable it may be. Addressing these diversity issues is essential to our healthcare system’s ability to reach more patients from more backgrounds, and improve the health of our population over time.
Getting to the Root
To reach a higher level of cultural competency, though, we must understand how we got here in the first place and work to dismantle the attributing factors to our industry’s diversity issues, piece by piece. These include:
Addressing the lack of diversity in our hiring pools: The dearth of BIPOC representation has a proven impact on our industry’s ability to care for and engage patients from underserved communities and underrepresented populations. In turn, this limits exposure to our profession, which then has an impact on the types of candidates we see entering our DPT programs. It’s a vicious cycle, and one that can be prevented by developing strategies to attract more diverse groups of people into the profession as students.
Implementing unconscious bias training within your practice. Although there are no specific federal training requirements for employers (i.e., mandatory sexual harassment training, quality and safety trainings), employers do have the option to add training programs if and when they feel necessary. Adding unconscious bias training to your onboarding process and ongoing employee development programs can be an easy way to make a big difference in your clinic’s hiring and recruiting practices.
Producing and sharing more research about how patients’ cultural differences impact their outcomes. There’s been minimal research done within the rehab therapy industry that recognizes just how much a patient's cultural differences from their provider can impact their plan of care and outcomes. Of the few resources we have to lean on, there is one I always refer back to: in this article from St. George’s University, “when a patient cannot find providers that resemble them, their beliefs, their culture, or other facets of their life, it may delay or prevent them from seeking care.” That one sentence is enough for any healthcare professional to stop and think—imagine what a windfall of supporting, evidence-based research can do to change their minds and intentions for good.
Meeting patients where they are. Part of engaging patients from diverse backgrounds means being present as advocates, providers, and neighbors. To this end, expanding clinic locations into underserved areas (medical deserts) is a must for our profession to reach an audience that is not familiar with our services. Utilizing existing infrastructure such as community centers and even libraries to provide screens or pop-up clinics are great ways to reach patients in a trusted space to start engagement with education.
It’s not enough to be tolerant of people from other backgrounds, cultures, and ethnicities. We must actively seek cultural acceptance, competency, and eventually mastery if we are to ever to reach our full potential as primary care providers.
Value-based care is here—and we must embrace it.
We’ve seen the value-based care (VBC) trend continue to grow and take shape within the larger healthcare continuum over the past decade—and rightly so. In 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reported that 20% of Medicare payments were made through value-based payment models. In turn, this saved the US healthcare system $417 million dollars and helped to reduce hospital readmissions among Medicare patients by eight percent. Fast forward to 2020 where these healthcare savings have increased tenfold, amounting to a total of $4.1 billion due to the utilization of value-based care payment models.
Despite these extraordinary findings, VBC remains a relatively new and unexplored concept for most rehab therapy professionals. As such, we must climb aboard this accelerating value-based train. And this will require us to get far more comfortable with standardization (i.e., the Quality Payment Program) as well as collecting and sharing the data required to prove the efficacy of our care (i.e., evidence-based outcomes).
Leveraging Technology to Promote VBC
Big data is critical to our success overall, particularly with regard to improving care quality, increasing access, and lowering healthcare costs—the three objectives of the Triple Aim that underscore the value-based care movement. To this end, technology adoption and utilization is no longer optional for rehab therapy providers.
The three biggest digital solutions to support care continuity, data collection efforts, and the large-scale move to value-based care for our industry include:
Telehealth:Studiesshow that the combination of telehealth and traditional practice is actually more effective than traditional practice alone. Why? Because telehealth enables providers to treat patients who aren’t able to make regular in-clinic visits or may not have the means to afford the care they seek. On the operations side, providers are seeing telehealth’s benefits as well. As Steve Windwer noted in this blog post detailing his clinic’s telehealth use, no-shows decreased and the cost of care declined after introducing telehealth.
Outcomes tracking: Traditional referral strategies are continuing to lose steam in this increasingly digital world. Referring providers care about one thing and one thing only: that their patient will benefit from your care. And the best way to do this is by collecting and sharing outcomes data.
We must raise our game as rehab therapists.
When talking about the struggle therapists have had in establishing themselves as primary providers, one speaker framed the issue quite simply: being a primary provider means acting like a doctor. And as such, we must quit behaving like we’re a commodity. This is called practicing at the top of our license. While most seasoned rehab therapists know what I mean by this, it’s imperative that each and every therapist in your clinic does, too. Your therapists play an integral role in educating patients about how rehab therapy can treat more than just their immediate pain. But, if they don’t quite grasp that concept themselves or know how to speak confidently about their roles as primary care providers, then how can we blame patients for not understanding this?
Rehab therapists have a unique set of skills to promote health and wellness within our population that no other medical professional has. So, to prove this—and successfully carve out a niche for ourselves within the greater healthcare continuum—we must do more than talk the talk. We need to take action within our clinics and professional circles. These initiatives include:
Successfully leveraging data and objective results to prove how PT can improve outcomes, help patients avoid unnecessary surgeries, and decrease downstream costs;
Demanding to make PT a covered benefit within your own organization; and
Educating and empowering the next generation of leaders to carry on the torch of promoting our services and value.
As you can see, we had no shortage of things to talk about at Ascend this year. And while I valued each of these conversations, I think my greatest takeaway was just how good it was to be with people that care as much about this industry as I and the team at WebPT do. It truly was one for the books. Take a look at our recap reel to see what I mean!