Face screaming in fear emoji Patients freaking out over high copays and deductibles? Learn how to handle 'em in our March webinar. Register now.

In an era of seemingly limitless data, knowing which points have any practical application or significance can make all the difference in critical decision-making—including the choices that impact patient care. And as the rehab therapy industry moves toward a pay-for-performance system, therapists will want to wear data as a badge of honor—and make sure the information they collect has value in a patient-centric healthcare world. That’s because, in the near future, PTs, OTs, and SLPs have an opportunity to position themselves as key healthcare players—and wearing that proverbial badge is only just the beginning.

Cloudy with a Chance of Reform: 5 Key Healthcare Forecasts for 2017 - Regular BannerCloudy with a Chance of Reform: 5 Key Healthcare Forecasts for 2017 - Small Banner

Proving Therapists’ Value

To put it plainly, payers are no longer interested in subjective arguments about the value you, as a PT, OT, or SLP, bring to the table. But while rehab therapists have, for some time, collected important data to measure patient progress and thus, provide better treatment, that data has not always been uniform—and it certainly hasn’t been meaningful and actionable outside of the rehab space. And in this day and age, that’s a problem. After all, to maintain relevance in an increasingly collaborative—and value-driven—care environment, therapists must be able to serve up data-backed conclusions to stakeholders across the healthcare continuum.

So, why all this talk about value? It all rolls up to the triple aim of federal healthcare reform, which, as the name would suggest, includes three main objectives:

  • achieving better results (in other words, better patient outcomes);
  • decreasing the cost of care; and
  • increasing patient satisfaction.

Thanks to the triple aim, we’ve already seen—and will continue to see—a slew of initiatives focused on moving providers away from a quantity-based treatment approach. Instead, therapists and other practitioners increasingly will be reimbursed based on the quality of their care.

Minding Critical Deadlines

Sure, transitioning from the traditional fee-for-service (FFS) model to a pay-for-performance system that, in part, rewards meaningful data collection is quite the undertaking. But while providing better, quality care at a lower cost is something we can all applaud, doing so sooner, rather than later, probably seems like a tall order. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that change is a comin’. In fact, it’s already happening. In 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced it would:

  • Base 30% of all Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) on alternative payment models by the end of 2016 (which it has already done)—and increase that proportion to 50% by 2018.
  • Link 85% of FFS payments to outcome measures by the end of 2016—and bump that percentage to 90% by the end of 2018.

Now, no one likes weighty deadlines staring them in the face, but ignoring them altogether could wind up costing you more. Oh, and if you don’t treat Medicare patients and think this new payment paradigm won’t impact you, well, think again. Remember, private payers tend to follow Medicare’s lead. So, in all likelihood, you’ll be hopping aboard this new payment train within the next few years—regardless of your payer mix. And that means your collection—and analysis—of outcomes data will prove mission-critical in the months to come.

So, how can rehab therapists jump-start—or improve upon—their data-tracking efforts? And how can they make it all worthwhile?

Optimizing Outcomes Tracking

Make it a habit.

The first step in developing a successful outcomes-tracking program in your practice is to actually, well, perform outcomes measures. Of course, you may already be collecting this type of data when you’re treating patients. But, because your walls can’t talk, the only way to draw, and eventually share, meaningful conclusions about patients’ overall progress—as well as your staff’s collective performance—is to track those outcomes in an objective, scalable manner.

Use the right measurement tools.

How do you make sure you’re tracking the right data? Well, it helps to select the right software—that is, a system that contains a host of evidence-based, industry-accepted tests that are already familiar to, and respected within, the healthcare community at large (e.g., QuickDASH, LEFS, Oswestry, Neck Disability Index, and Dizziness Handicap Inventory). Furthermore, you should choose tools that are risk-adjusted for complicating factors, such as age, weight, litigation, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. That way, you can make accurate comparisons of different types of patients.

Make your data actionable.

Collecting data is one thing; making it meaningful and actionable is a whole different nut to crack. If you’re merely jotting down random factoids and numbers, your data won’t do you much good—and it certainly won’t help you transform patient care both inside and outside of your clinic. To reap the true benefits of data-tracking, you must ask the tough questions and make sure you have the right methodology in place. To build a solid foundation for your data-tracking program, ask yourself:

  • What is the basis of my data-collection efforts?
  • What data do I have, and what else can I uncover?
  • How should I use the data once I have it?

Answering these questions should help you gain greater clarity around some of the burning patient-care questions you’d like to investigate. Some other ideas for putting your data to work for you: using it to better “analyze [your] patient population, understand who needs help (including and especially patients who haven’t been able to come into [your] office), and proactively reach out and give those patients the care they need.” Additionally, when done right, outcomes tracking will enable you to better understand which treatments work and which need improvement—thus allowing you to continually enhance your value as a provider. And that’s something that is meaningful to a variety of healthcare stakeholders, including payers and referring physicians.

Eyeing the Payment Prize

Now, some of you still may be asking, “What’s in it for me?” Well, as I alluded to above, your profitability as a provider depends on the strength of your data. That’s because, under a pay-for-performance model, the amount of reimbursement you receive for your services will be directly tied to the quality of care you provide. So theoretically, the higher the quality of treatment you deliver, the higher your reimbursements will be. That said, outcomes tracking shouldn’t only be about dollars and cents; instead, you should look at it as a way for rehab therapists to earn more respect throughout the healthcare community at large. The move to value-based care is a huge opportunity for PTs, OTs, and SLPs to position themselves as crucial—and cost-effective—members of patient care teams.

Influencing Future Payment Rates

In the past, rehab therapy practices may have shied away from collecting patient outcomes data for any number of reasons—including the misguided belief that it’s unnecessary or illegal, or the concern that it will offend patients. But, the time has come to stop making excuses—and start objectively demonstrating your power and effectiveness. After all, your payments—and the future of your profession—depend on it. And the more data PTs, OTs, and SLPs can amass collectively, the better they can position themselves to optimize both. Plus, more easily accessible and digestible data across the entire healthcare continuum should mean better, more coordinated, less expensive care for everyone.

As Heraclitus once mused, “Men who wish to know about the world must learn about it in its particular details.” With the rehab therapy industry shifting toward a payment model in which collecting actionable patient data truly matters, minding all the fine data details will be all the more important. Sure, it may take a bit of extra time and effort, but the end result will be worth it. So, grab that data-collection badge—and wear it with honor.

  • Founder Letter: My 5 PT Industry Predictions for 2015 Image

    articleJan 6, 2015 | 6 min. read

    Founder Letter: My 5 PT Industry Predictions for 2015

    I’m no fortune teller; I don’t have a crystal ball, and I can’t see into the future. But like a good sports analyst or meteorologist, I can make some educated hypotheses. And while I definitely couldn’t tell you who’s going to win the Super Bowl next month—or what the weather will be like at kick-off—I’m pretty confident about these five predictions of the topics and trends that will have the biggest impact on the physical therapy community …

  • Live from CSM: Leading the Way in Healthcare Reform and Women’s Empowerment Image

    articleFeb 6, 2015 | 15 min. read

    Live from CSM: Leading the Way in Healthcare Reform and Women’s Empowerment

    Temperatures here in Indianapolis have finally broken the freezing mark, with today’s predicted high at a balmy 40 degrees. But that warming trend isn’t limited to the brisk Midwest air. Things also are heating up inside of the Indiana Convention Center, where thousands of physical therapy professionals and students have converged for the APTA’s 2015 Combined Sections Meeting (CSM). There’s no shortage of hot issues on the radar for the physical therapy industry this year—and CSM’s jam-packed …

  • Final Thoughts from CSM: Outcomes, Payment Reform, and—Purple Cows? Image

    articleFeb 9, 2015 | 19 min. read

    Final Thoughts from CSM: Outcomes, Payment Reform, and—Purple Cows?

    By Saturday morning, attendees of the APTA’s Combined Sections Meeting (CSM) were moving with a little less pep in their step—and a couple extra shots of espresso in their morning coffee. Still, the educational sessions on the final day of CSM were chock full of eager learners looking to eat up a few more morsels of wisdom before catching their planes home from Indy. Here are some highlights from day three’s informational smorgasbord (check out recaps from …

  • Top 3 Takeaways from CSM 2016 Image

    articleFeb 24, 2016 | 5 min. read

    Top 3 Takeaways from CSM 2016

    With record attendance—more than 11, 000 rehab therapy professionals from all over the US—CSM 2016 in Anaheim, California, was abuzz with energy and enthusiasm. When I wasn’t running around in search of folks wearing “I heart PT” buttons so I could give them prizes (did you catch us on Gene Shirokobrod’s Periscope?), I was busy attending sessions in the Private Practice track. I made it to eight fantastic presentations—and wished I could have seen more. If you …

  • 4 Ways the Affordable Care Act Will Transform Occupational Therapy—for the Better Image

    articleApr 13, 2015 | 6 min. read

    4 Ways the Affordable Care Act Will Transform Occupational Therapy—for the Better

    Today’s blog post comes from Veda Collmer, OTR, WebPT’s in-house counsel and compliance officer. Veda is a licensed occupational therapist and attorney—quite the combo! The theme of Occupational Therapy Month—“Transforming lives, building independence”—has inspired me to write about the transformation of occupational therapy itself. In the years following the 2010 passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), I’ve been studying up on how the new law will change the face of health care in …

  • Closing the Loop: Why PTs are Critical to ACO Success Image

    articleJul 21, 2016 | 7 min. read

    Closing the Loop: Why PTs are Critical to ACO Success

    Last year, the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced its plan to link half of all Medicare fee-for-service payments to alternative payment models by 2018. That’s only a year and a half away, which means the clock is ticking—and the demand for alternative model adoption is increasing. If you work in a large healthcare organization—especially a hospital—you undoubtedly already know about one such model that’s been garnering quite a lot of attention across the …

  • This Week in PT News, May 2 Image

    articleMay 1, 2014 | 2 min. read

    This Week in PT News, May 2

    CMS Hints at ICD-10 Transition Date Last night, during the release of 2015 IPPS Proposed Rule , CMS referenced October 1, 2015, as the new implementation date for ICD-10. In fact, according to the AAPC , CMS referenced that date three separate times within the proposed rule. Not prepared for the transition? Well, we have you covered. You can reference our previous blog posts about ICD-10 here or you can head over to our ICD-10 blog . …

  • PT in the ED: Why Hospitals are Bringing Rehab Therapy to the Emergency Room Image

    articleSep 2, 2016 | 5 min. read

    PT in the ED: Why Hospitals are Bringing Rehab Therapy to the Emergency Room

    In TV hospital dramas, the emergency room is a place for trauma—the gushing-blood, broken-bone, mangled-limb variety. Those ailments don’t exactly fall into the wheelhouse of most physical and occupational therapists, which is why many ER or Grey’s Anatomy fans would be surprised to see a PT or OT cameo in an emergency department scene. But, as with many Hollywood-manufactured depictions of the world, this one doesn’t quite match up to real life. In fact, a growing number …

  • MAC Madness: When and How to Contact Your Medicare Contractor Image

    articleNov 4, 2016 | 4 min. read

    MAC Madness: When and How to Contact Your Medicare Contractor

    Medicare providers have a lot of challenges to contend with—and meeting those challenges can be tough. But, you don’t always have to go it alone, because while you can’t always count on CMS to provide clear guidance on how to comply with all the regulations that apply to you, you do have other resources at your disposal when you need answers—quick. Let’s talk about one such resource: your Medicare Administrative Contractor (MAC). Your Medicare Go-To Even if …

Achieve greatness in practice with the ultimate EMR for PTs, OTs, and SLPs.