“Value” is a buzzword in health care right now. Unlike most buzzwords, though, this one isn’t buzzing off anytime soon. As value-based reimbursement models gain momentum in our country and our patients become more savvy customers, the value of your occupational therapy services may come into question.

Proving your value may sound extremely daunting, but it doesn't have to be. You don’t need to speak to the value of the whole occupational therapy profession. You just need to be ready to describe your own practice in a way that resonates with your listeners. This comes down to answering some basic questions about your work, and you probably know most—if not all—of the answers already. And if you don’t know ’em all, that’s okay. You’ll get there in time. Just make it a point to do some research, schedule some one-on-one time with your manager, and reflect on yourself and your knowledge. All of that effort will pay off, because knowing the answers to the questions I’m about to highlight will help you talk to your clients, friends, employers, co-workers, and payers about the value of your work.

Now, in answering these questions, you may be tempted to go off on a long-winded occupational therapy tangent; it is your passion and career, after all. But be wary of rambling.

Most people are only interested in the answers to the following six questions.

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1. Who is your client?

Your go-to answer may be, “Everyone will benefit from my OT services.” Wrong. Customers and payers want to know you have expertise in working with a specific population. They want to know that you’re a realist and that you understand that not every person is currently at a place in his or her life in which your care would provide true value. Here’s an example of a better answer: “I work with adult males who have been hospitalized following psychiatric episodes.”

2. What outcome do you help your client achieve?

It’s important to be able to communicate your value in terms that register with your audience. Customers want to know what they will get out of the treatment, and lucky for them, OTs are a goal-oriented bunch. Example answer: “I partner with these men to help them transition back to the community.”

3. How is that outcome linked to your client’s desires?

When you’re talking with your patients, you’ve got to be able to answer this question. As an OT, being patient-centered isn't a rote practice for you. This is your passion, and usually, how you answer this question will seal the deal on the value of your services from the patient’s perspective. Example answer: “My patients want to spend more quality time with their families. I help them do just that.”

4. How do you give your patients what they want?

People don’t typically care how the sausage gets made. If someone casually asked you about your practice, your conversation would have probably ended by this point. However, in a professional setting—for instance, when you’re interacting with payers or working with other medical professionals—you need to be prepared to answer this question. Example answer: “I help prepare patients for this transition through Life Skills groups and the establishment of environmental sensory supports.”

5. What evidence backs your approach?

We all know that evidence-based practice is important, but it can be so easy to fall behind in the latest research. If you’re in this boat, don’t despair. NBCOT is launching some awesome continuing competency features in early June. NBCOT will even send you a reading list of research in your practice area from the past five years. Example answer: “When it comes to developing sensory supports on my unit, I base my work on Tina Champagne’s work. Her 2010 report about integrating sensory interventions and trauma-based care states that an estimated 34,000 restraints were avoided from 1999-2008, creating a savings of over $10 million in redirected staff time and resources.”

6. How much does your service cost? And how is it a better option compared to the competition or other avenues of care?

Every therapist should know how much his or her services cost—and why they’re worth that price tag. I’ll admit that I have worked many months at several jobs without knowing the cost of my services or who was responsible for paying that cost. Such lack of awareness simply won’t fly in our new value-based payment models. Your managers should be communicating with you regarding the unique value of your practice. If they aren’t, ask them to do so. Rely on them to help you craft this answer.

Putting it All Together

Once you’ve answered all of these questions, you should be able to field any inquiries about your value. In each conversation, you can pick and choose which of these answers to draw on and how in-depth your answers will be.

A Note to Business Owners and Managers

You all have a more weighty responsibility when it comes to understanding and articulating the value of your clinic, and that goes beyond the scope of this article. Luckily, there are great resources out there to help you with this. Ann Wendel has blogged about this topic for WebPT. Jen Gash, an OT from the UK, offers the ebook titled, “How to Sell OT: How to turn a random idea into a value proposition”. Lastly, Paul Potter, Jamey Schrier, and Scott Harmon are all therapists who provide consultation about developing your unique value proposition.


About the Author

Sarah received her Bachelor of Art from St. Olaf College and her Master of Occupational Therapy from New York University. Her work experience includes a critical access hospital, an acute trauma hospital, and a state inpatient psychiatric hospital. She is the creator of otpotential.com, where she blogs for OT students and new practitioners. Nebraska is her home, but she currently live in Chicago. Check her out on Twitter and Facebook.

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