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.

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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.

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