Over the past several months, I’ve talked a lot about how therapists can prove their value (namely, through tracking outcomes data). But, even though data provides the value proof we need, it’s not the end of the story. It’s up to us to turn that data into something meaningful—something we can act on that will actually help us demonstrate the value of our care. And that means using data in conjunction with defensible documentation to inform our treatment decisions and hold ourselves accountable to meeting high standards of care quality.

Good patient documentation—the kind that paints a complete picture of each patient and his or her therapy journey—should clearly show progress and highlight improvement in an accurate and concise way. It should focus on the most important pieces of information that add color—and more importantly, meaningful context—to your patients’ stories. But, those stories should read more like CliffsNotes than lengthy novels. The content should be easily digestible, make a clear statement, and highlight only the most important and relevant details. Furthermore, to make each story believable, you must root the details you include in fact. That’s where outcomes data comes in.

The 2018 Rehab Therapy Salary Guide - Regular BannerThe 2018 Rehab Therapy Salary Guide - Small Banner

The Main Character

If you want to tell a story that proves the efficacy of your care, you can’t forget the most important component: your main character (i.e., your patient). So, how do you effectively tell an individual patient’s story? What actions do you need to take to ensure your documentation reflects your patient and his or her previous functional level, current status, and therapy progress in the most accurate, complete way possible? Here’s what you need to do:

Listen Closely

When you listen to your patients, you’ll hear their exact complaints and expectations. And if you listen close enough, you’ll often discover that what they don’t expressly say actually provides better insight into their feelings and experiences. For example, you might notice that this week, a patient didn’t bring up a particular symptom that he or she mentioned last week. Does that mean the patient is improving? Possibly. But, picking up on this potentially insightful omission is only step one; now, it’s time to ask the right questions to tease out the facts. Just make sure you steer clear of any leading questions; after all, you don’t want to force your projected outcome on the patient. So, focus on listening to the patient first—before you interject with your own ideas or analysis.  

Be Specific

Speaking of objectivity, as you document what you’re hearing, seeing, and inferring from visit to visit, be sure to note any changes in pain levels and patient goals. Patient-reported outcomes—that is, outcomes tools that incorporate patients’ responses to questionnaires—can help you track those changes in a non-subjective way. When you administer these tests consistently, you’ll have specific data points to help illustrate patient progress, make measurable and accurate comparisons, and draw meaningful conclusions about treatment effectiveness and patient satisfaction levels.

Follow Through

If you administer patient outcomes questionnaires and you notice a patient isn’t filling them out completely, find out why. Is it because the questions are uncomfortable? Is the survey unclear? Or, perhaps the patient simply doesn’t understand how the questionnaire fits into his or her overall treatment picture. Whatever the reason, I encourage you to sit with the patient and talk through any questions he or she might have. It’s also paramount to explain the value of filling out the questionnaire as honestly as possible.

The Setting

Now that we’ve covered the importance of listening, asking questions, and following through, I want to talk about patient satisfaction as it relates to your practice setting. Every dynamic character interacts with his or her setting. Bearing that in mind, are you providing the best possible quality in all aspects of your business? Is your outcomes data telling you that your patients are happy? If the data shows that your patient satisfaction scores are down, you better find out what’s causing that dissatisfaction. In some cases, the answer might be something as simple as the treatment environment.

When it comes to treatment environment, I really want to emphasize how important it is that you have a pulse on your clinic’s communication. The way you and your staff communicate with your patients as well as with each other can greatly impact your patients’ perception of care. And your patients’ perception of care—as you know—is extremely important. In this web presentation, David Browder and Larry Benz cover the care factors that actually matter to patients. And they found that the patients with the highest satisfaction levels had the following opinions in common:

  1. their therapist was knowledgeable,
  2. they received clear instructions,
  3. the appointments began on time,
  4. the staff was friendly, and
  5. their own physician recommended the clinic.

So, as you keep those five things in mind, I also encourage you to evaluate the flow of your patient appointments. For example, if things in your clinic tend to be fairly chaotic, it could be stressing out your patients. And if you discover that’s the case, you can address the issue before it negatively affects more patients’ experiences. This is one example of how outcomes questionnaires—and patient satisfaction surveys, in particular—provide a great opportunity for you to pinpoint problems in your practice that you wouldn’t have otherwise been aware of (unless you received a poor patient review on Yelp or another online platform).

The Plot

Just as tracking outcomes helps you write the best possible report for your patients, your data allows you to set the course for your own story. Specifically, it empowers you to confidently negotiate your payer contracts (and work toward getting the rates you deserve), become a referral engine, and demonstrate to your patients why you’re the best provider to address their needs. Now, that doesn’t mean you can simply spit out the numbers and move on with your life. You have to take a hard look at what your scores mean, carefully considering all of the factors that may influence your outcomes data. Ask yourself:

  • Are you routinely administering the tests?
  • How are you tracking and using the responses/results?
  • Are your therapists trying to influence what should be patients’ honest opinions?

Once you’ve accounted—and adjusted—for all of these factors, you can be sure the data you’re using to drive your decision-making is truly reliable. And the key is that you actually are using it. (For some helpful tips on how to incorporate outcomes data into both your business and clinical operations, check out this blog post.)  

The Ending

I’d argue that we, as rehab therapists, are all interested in contributing to the greater good. By and large, we truly want to improve the lives of people everywhere—whether or not they’re our patients. And that’s exactly what tracking and acting on outcomes data can help us do—if we’re willing to band together and pool our data, that is. After all, the more measurable, accurate, and risk-adjusted data we can collect and leverage, the more strongly we can assert our value as healthcare providers.

Part of asserting our value is having the courage to make changes based on what we discover through collecting data. It’s crucial that we remain open-minded and take swift action to improve our care, which in turn can help our patients get better, faster. Remember, it’s the patients who quickly improve and experience exceptional care that leave great reviews and generate more business through word of mouth. As in the book world, the more positive reviews we have, the more potential we have to gain new business. And isn’t that the happy ending we all want to write?


Now, it’s your turn to finish the story. What will you do with your outcomes data? Will you take the steps necessary to turn data into action? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

  • Founder Letter: Why I’m Betting on Outcomes Image

    articleFeb 4, 2016 | 5 min. read

    Founder Letter: Why I’m Betting on Outcomes

    I’m not much of a gambler. Some folks enjoy the rush that comes with putting all their chips on the table and risking everything on a single roll of the dice. Well, no offense to all you card sharks out there, but if I’m going to go all in, it better be on something I’m pretty darn sure of. So, when I say I’m betting on outcomes, you know I’m not bluffing. In fact, I’m 100% confident …

  • Luck o' the Outcome: Which OMT Are You? [Quiz] Image

    articleMar 8, 2016 | 1 min. read

    Luck o' the Outcome: Which OMT Are You? [Quiz]

    Whether you’re Irish or simply Irish-at-heart (hey, even St. Patrick himself didn’t hail from the Emerald Isle), March 17 is reserved as a day to bust out your best jig; don every imaginable shade of green; and partake in some delicious food and drink—even if only for nostalgia’s sake. So, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, we’ve decided to combine two—no, three—of our favorite things: OMTs, holidays, and quizzes. So, plant a smooch on the ol’ Blarney …

  • Channeling Your Inner Chuck Norris: How to Master the Art of Outcomes Image

    articleFeb 17, 2016 | 6 min. read

    Channeling Your Inner Chuck Norris: How to Master the Art of Outcomes

    When I was growing up, I stayed at my grandparents house after school. This meant I spent the better part of my youth tuning into whatever my grandpa watched on TV. And because he watched a lot of Walker, Texas Ranger, I watched a lot of Walker, Texas Ranger. Chuck Norris was basically my afterschool nanny. (Don’t tell him I said that.) Each afternoon, I watched this karate-kicking cowboy fight off bad guy after bad guy. He …

  • WebPT + Outcomes: A PT Software Love Story Image

    articleMar 7, 2016 | 7 min. read

    WebPT + Outcomes: A PT Software Love Story

    Developing and launching WebPT Outcomes has been a labor of love—one that’s lasted about 15 months. At times, it felt more like the kind of love you’d have for a sibling—after he or she pushes you off the bunk bed and you split your lip open. You know, that kind of love. But, after lots of triumphs—and just as many fat lips—it’s been wonderful seeing the fruits of our labor come to life. Hello, WebPT Outcomes: the …

  • How Outcomes Tracking Fosters Quality Care Image

    articleFeb 3, 2016 | 4 min. read

    How Outcomes Tracking Fosters Quality Care

    You know you do darn fine work as a rehab therapist—and we do, too. But when asked to prove your value as a healthcare provider to patients, payers, and the rest of the healthcare industry, do you resort to anecdotal evidence of patient improvement, or do you have at your disposal cold, hard, irrefutable facts (a.k.a. outcomes data) about the results you and your patients achieved? Unfortunately, many PTs and OTs are still relying on the former—and …

  • Is PT Valuable? Why Outcomes Data is the Proof We Need Image

    webinarFeb 3, 2016

    Is PT Valuable? Why Outcomes Data is the Proof We Need

    In this day and age, it seems like everybody wants more for less—and that’s certainly true in the healthcare realm. With nationwide reform efforts pushing providers to deliver higher-quality care at a lower cost, value—and the ability to prove it—is absolutely critical. Most rehab therapists will tell you the services they provide are more valuable than anyone knows. And that’s precisely the problem. No one knows the value of physical and occupational therapy. But outcomes tracking can …

  • 4 Reasons PTs Can’t Afford to Ignore Coding Reform (PTCPS Special Report, Part 3) Image

    articleFeb 15, 2016 | 6 min. read

    4 Reasons PTs Can’t Afford to Ignore Coding Reform (PTCPS Special Report, Part 3)

    For most PTs, coding for service charges is kind of an afterthought—something they do at the end of the day, after they’ve finished up all of their paperwork. It’s a task that—while not the most exciting endeavor—is fairly straightforward: find the CPT code that matches the service provided, calculate the correct number of units, record everything appropriately, and move on to bigger and better things (i.e., treating and healing patients). But, in less than a year, that …

  • Why My Practice Can’t Live Without Outcomes Tracking Image

    articleMar 15, 2017 | 3 min. read

    Why My Practice Can’t Live Without Outcomes Tracking

    If you don’t measure it, you cannot improve it. For a long time, as our business was growing, we operated by feel. And we “felt” we were doing a good job. Once we started tracking our physical therapy outcomes , though, we finally knew. We found out that we were doing a good job—in some areas. In other areas, we found out that we needed more work. The main point is that we were flying blind until …

  • WebPT Member Q&A: Why PTs Absolutely Must Track Outcomes Image

    articleFeb 27, 2017 | 7 min. read

    WebPT Member Q&A: Why PTs Absolutely Must Track Outcomes

    Brian Rodriguez, PT, DPT, OCS, is the owner of Utah Physical Therapy Specialists in West Jordan, Utah. There, he treats a variety of orthopedic conditions, specializing in sports injuries, spine problems, headaches, auto accident cases, geriatric problems, and work injuries. A WebPT Member since 2012, Brian’s clinic was one of the first to put WebPT Outcomes to work. In this interview-style post, Brian provides his two-cents on the importance of outcomes tracking , explains how he built …

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