Blog Post

7 Habits of Highly Effective Physical Therapists

Looking to be a highly effective PT? Adopt these seven habits.

Erica McDermott
5 min read
April 10, 2017
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You’ve completed the necessary coursework to earn your credentials—and you’ve kept up to date on new research in your field through continuing education courses—but if you want to be a highly effective physical therapist, you’ve got to do more than that. PTs who consistently perform at the tip-top of their potential also exercise these seven habits:

1. Practice active evidence-based care.

As WebPT President Heidi Jannenga explained in this article, “Active evidence-based practice is all the evidence-based good stuff you’re already familiar with (i.e., learning from others through research studies, webinars, or continuing education courses) with the addition of putting into practice everything you’ve learned and then measuring the results.” She goes on to explain that while the “standard, passive type of evidence-based practice” is all well and fine, it shouldn’t stand alone. “After all, evidence-based practice is rooted in the scientific method—and the scientific method requires a willingness to continually test and retest hypotheses (whether those are yours or someone else’s),” she wrote. That means that “to truly embrace evidence-based practice, you also must embrace the never-ending process of learning, applying, testing, and improving.”

2. Use outcomes tracking to maximize care quality—and patient satisfaction.

As the US healthcare industry shifts from a fee-for-service, volume-driven paradigm to a patient-centered, value-based environment, outcomes data collection and tracking is quickly becoming a must for all providers. Why? Because in addition to enabling providers to monitor and analyze the impact of their therapeutic interventions—and thereby demonstrate their value to patients and payers alike—a quality outcomes tracking program also helps those providers keep close tabs on patient satisfaction levels. With this kind of data at their fingertips, providers can not only benchmark their own care quality against national averages, but also drill down to the patient level to identify—and address—potential issues before they become problematic.

3. Devise—and deploy—solid patient engagement strategies.

Engaged patients are the best kinds of patients, because—as Jannenga and WebPT CEO Nancy Ham discussed in a recent webinar—they actually achieve better outcomes. After all, engaged patients:

  1. Are proactive about their health;
  2. Are invested—emotionally, psychologically, and financially—in their treatment;
  3. Understand that their actions outside of treatment impact their results; and
  4. See the value of their treatment as it relates to their overall well-being.

So, how do you foster patient engagement? According to Jannenga and Ham, you can start by:

  1. Fully explaining conditions—and treatment plans—to patients (using language they can understand);
  2. Involving them in the creation of their care plans; and
  3. Highlighting improvements—via outcomes data—as they progress toward their goals.

4. Implement the right technology.

If the key to successful point-of-care documentation is “striking a balance between efficiency and relationships,” as Jannenga said in this post, then it makes sense that using a rehab therapy-specific, super efficient practice management platform would all but take care of one half of that equation, freeing up plenty of time for providers to focus on building great patient relationships. Additionally, as regulations and compliance rules continue to increase, it’s imperative that your technological solutions help you stay compliant with the therapy cap, the 8-minute rule, FLR, and—soon—MIPS.

5. Optimize—and automate.

As I discussed in this post last year, physical therapists already spend a lot of time on optimization—optimizing their patients’ physical capabilities, that is. But what about their businesses? Highly effective physical therapists also turn their optimization eye toward their practices, ensuring that they’re as “perfect, functional, and effective as possible.” One of the best ways to do that is to adopt the lean principles that Toyota pioneered in the ’30s to ensure that a patient’s experience is seamless—from the first moment he or she interacts with your practice to the last. And that requires mapping out your practice’s flow from the patient’s perspective and identifying all waste, which is “any step that does not provide direct value to your patients.” Once you identify the waste, you can minimize it through automation.


6. Provide valuable educational resources.

In addition to providing exceptional patient care, highly effective physical therapists understand the value of providing educational resources that go beyond in-clinic care—and one of the best ways to disseminate this type of content is via a blog. As WebPT’s Brooke Andrus explained in this post, blogs afford PTs the opportunity to become thought leaders in the industry, which not only improves their reputation with patients, but also their online visibility. During the previously cited webinar, Jannenga and Ham also suggested providing patients with educational resources to help them navigate their health insurance coverage—a particularly timely and highly valuable topic given the recent increase in high-deductible health plans.

7. Prioritize presence.

As Jannenga wrote in this EIM article, being present—physically, mentally, and emotionally present—is “one of the most important things you can do for your career...and for your life in general.” That’s because disconnection to the present can prevent you from:

  • “Fully listening to others
  • “Being aware of your environment
  • “Taking the time to understand how your work fits into the bigger picture
  • “Being engaged with, interested in, or excited by your peers and daily activities”

To foster more presence in your life, Jannenga recommends becoming more aware of the times when you’re not being present—”when your mind is wandering to something that already happened or thinking about something that might.” She also suggests developing a practice of returning to the present moment—by employing this free exercise from Nilima Bhat, for example.

There you have it: seven habits of highly effective physical therapists. But, there are surely more than seven. What other habits have you adopted to ensure you’re practicing at the top of your game?

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