Things aren’t always as they appear, and that’s certainly true when it comes to measuring the success of rehab therapy treatment. As any therapist knows, if you make decisions based on observational data alone, determining whether or not your treatment is making a difference can prove difficult. That’s why outcomes exist: they give therapists an objective, concrete way to measure patient improvement. But, a positive outcome score isn’t necessarily enough to tell you that your physical therapy treatment is effective. That’s where minimal clinically important differences (MCIDs) come into the picture.

The PT’s Guide to Billing - Regular BannerThe PT’s Guide to Billing - Small Banner

What are MCIDs?

Tracking Patient Improvement

MCIDs are research values are that crucial to determining the efficacy of any given treatment modality or plan. In terms of physical therapy outcomes, MCIDs represent the minimum outcomes score change patients should experience in order for them, their providers, or other overseeing bodies to confirm that therapy is creating a positive difference.

Here are the MCIDs for a few common outcome measurement tools in rehab therapy:

Outcome Measurement Tool

Minimal Clinically Important Difference (MCID)

Lower Extremity Functional Scale (LEFS)

⇧ Increase of 9 points

Modified Oswestry Disability Index (ODI)

⇩ Decrease of 12%

QuickDASH (Disabilities of the Arm, Shoulder, and Hand)

⇩ Decrease of 18 points

Dizziness Handicap Inventory (DHI)

⇩ Decrease of 18 points

Neck Disability Index (NDI)

⇩ Decrease of 5 points

For example: Let’s say you’re treating a patient for chronic neck pain. You might use the Neck Disability Index to measure the patient’s initial level of disability and track his or her progress. Let’s also say that the patient began therapy with an NDI score of 33—which denotes “severe disability.” But over time, the patient’s score decreases to 26. In this scenario, 26 is still considered “severe disability”; however, the seven-point drop indicates a meaningful, objective, and measurable change, because it exceeds the MCID for the Neck Disability Index (which is a decrease of five points).

Why are they important?

Preventing Patient Dropout

Let’s face it: physical therapy isn’t exactly a cake walk for many patients. Sometimes, it can feel like an uphill battle, particularly if a patient doesn’t notice any significant improvement. When this happens, patients might disappear from therapy before they’ve completed treatment. However, if a patient is meeting the MCIDs for applicable outcome measures, you can prove to him or her that therapy is actually working—even if he or she hasn’t noticed a difference yet.

Updating Treatment Plans

While MCIDs can be instrumental in demonstrating the efficacy of therapy to patients, they can also play a crucial role in helping providers identify points along the course of care at which a patient’s treatment plan is in need of adjustment. As a provider, you can catch ineffective—or even contradictory—interventions by assessing the patient’s progress at regular intervals and comparing his or her outcomes to the applicable MCIDs.


You can’t always take things at face value. Just because you don’t observe a major change from week to week during the course of therapy treatment, it doesn’t mean improvement is non-existent. That’s why tracking outcomes is crucial to delivering meaningful results through evidence-based treatment interventions and modalities. By using MCIDs and outcomes in tandem, you can ensure that you’re delivering the best possible care to every patient—every time.

  • Outcomes and OMT FAQ Image

    articleApr 26, 2016 | 11 min. read

    Outcomes and OMT FAQ

    In January, we hosted a webinar focused on the importance of outcomes tracking in physical therapy. In addition to explaining why it’s absolutely critical that therapists collect objective data on patient progress, we highlighted a few of the reports available in WebPT Outcomes . With the move to a value-based payment environment already in full swing, outcomes tracking is a hot topic in the physical therapy space, and that meant lots of thoughtful question from our webinar …

  • Common Questions from Our Stalled Patient Progress Webinar Image

    articleFeb 7, 2018 | 9 min. read

    Common Questions from Our Stalled Patient Progress Webinar

    Earlier this week, Dr. Heidi Jannenga, PT, DPT, ATC/L, the president and co-founder of WebPT, teamed up with Charlotte Bohnett, WebPT’s director of demand generation, to host a webinar on common barriers to patient progress —and strategies for overcoming them. During the question-and-answer portion of the presentation, we received quite a few audience questions on the nuances of fostering patient engagement and moving patients toward their therapy goals as efficiently as possible. We’ve compiled the most frequently …

  • Retention, Please: Why Patient Dropout is Killing Rehab Therapy Practices— and How to Stop It Image

    downloadApr 24, 2018

    Retention, Please: Why Patient Dropout is Killing Rehab Therapy Practices— and How to Stop It

    Patient health is the top priority for most rehab therapists—specifically, getting patients back to a level of health that allows them to do what they love. But, when patients say “sayonara” before they reach their therapy goals, they lose the opportunity to live their fullest lives. To make matters worse, the average rehab therapy practice will lose $150,000 annually due to patient dropout alone. Talk about a one-two punch to the gut. Here at WebPT, we believe …

  • 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 …

  • WebPT Outcomes OMT Reference Guide Image

    downloadDec 22, 2016

    WebPT Outcomes OMT Reference Guide

    Ever feel like the results your patients achieve don’t match up to the statistics your payers bring to the negotiation table? Now you can prove them wrong. Collecting objective patient data can help you, the rehab therapist, yield better patient outcomes—and pad your bottom line in the process. And that’s kind of a big deal in today’s value-based healthcare system. Today, with the right practice management tools—including WebPT Outcomes—it’s easier than ever to set concrete performance goals …

  • 5 Legit Reasons to Fire a PT Patient (and How to Do It) Image

    articleApr 26, 2019 | 10 min. read

    5 Legit Reasons to Fire a PT Patient (and How to Do It)

    One of the greatest joys of being a physical therapist is interacting with patients. There is truly no feeling in the world like helping someone improve his or her mobility and independence. But, as enjoyable as patient care can be, it’s not always sunshine and roses. There’s no guarantee that every patient will treat us with respect. In fact, some even act in a threatening way toward us. And while most therapists have some war stories, it’s …

  • 6 Icebreakers for New PT, OT, and SLP Patients Image

    articleFeb 16, 2018 | 6 min. read

    6 Icebreakers for New PT, OT, and SLP Patients

    While beginning a new patient’s first appointment by asking why that patient is seeking your services may be the most efficient route to developing his or her treatment plan, such a direct approach can leave your patients feeling brushed off. Now, more than ever, patients want to feel connected to their healthcare providers, and that requires excellent patient communication skills on your part—communication skills that you’ll need to apply before you jump into the clinical stuff. Think …

  • FAQ: The Data-Driven Practice: 10 Stats to Track in Your Therapy Organization Image

    articleFeb 8, 2019 | 18 min. read

    FAQ: The Data-Driven Practice: 10 Stats to Track in Your Therapy Organization

    Earlier this week, WebPT President and Co-Founder Dr. Heidi Jannenga, PT, DT, ATC, teamed up with WebPT Vice President of Innovation and Product Management, Russell Olsen, to discuss the ten trackable metrics that can help you turbo-boost your practice past the competition. They tackled as many audience questions as they could during the post-webinar Q&A, but there just wasn’t enough time to get to all of them. So, we’ve compiled—and answered—the most frequently asked ones and posted …

  • The PT Patient's Guide to Understanding Insurance Image

    downloadApr 3, 2017

    The PT Patient's Guide to Understanding Insurance

    Patients are shouldering a greater portion of their healthcare costs than ever before. But when they don’t know the specifics of their coverage, they can end up with much bigger bills than they bargained for—and that often leads to unpaid balances and unfinished treatment plans. Bring them up to speed—and improve your practice’s collections and patient retention—with this guide. Patients will learn: What it means for a service to be “covered.” How to define common insurance terms. …

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