So, you want to start collecting outcomes data in your rehab therapy practice, huh? Major props to you! (If I could high-five you through the screen, I totally would.) As our blog content over the past few months would suggest, we here at WebPT are big fans of outcomes tracking. But, as with any other major endeavor—in business or in life—success with outcomes collection is 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration. In other words, it’s not enough to aspire to tracking outcomes successfully; to get your practice there, you’ve gotta put in the work (cue Rihanna).

But, just like a builder wouldn’t start stacking bricks without a blueprint, you shouldn’t start collecting outcomes without a plan. After all, the only way to ensure you—and your staff members—follow through in the long term is to ensure you successfully integrate each outcomes tracking step into your existing workflow. So, before you grab your hardhat—er, outcomes software—and start hammering away at your practice’s outcomes program, consider the following tips for optimizing your data-collection workflow.

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1. Make sure everyone on your team understands the “why.”

For parents of chore-evading teenagers, “Because I said so” is the go-to response to just about any statement of protest. But while totalitarian rule works wonders for convincing lazy adolescents to clean their rooms, it’s typically not a great strategy for fostering buy-in among customers and staff members—especially if the task you’re proposing will rock the status quo.

If you’ve gone so far as to draw up a plan for implementing outcomes tracking—and hopefully, outcomes tracking software—in your practice, I’m betting you’re already well-versed in the benefits of collecting outcomes data:

But, just because you’re at the forefront of data-driven innovation doesn’t mean everyone in your clinic is—at least not yet. So, take the time to educate them on those points. Tell them why your practice—and they as individual therapists—can’t afford not to track this information. Explain the changing payment and regulatory landscape—and how it’s going to affect the rehab therapy industry in the coming months and years. Rally them around the idea of providing the best care possible—and explain why that’s not possible unless everyone tracks their results. Because to identify meaningful trends—and apply that information to ensure optimal treatment and care—you’re going to need all hands on deck.

2. Get all staff members involved in the implementation planning process.

The point of a plan is to account—and, um, plan—for all possible circumstances before they actually materialize. That way, you’re not caught off-guard by any surprises—or forced into any impulsive reactions. Of course, there’s no way you’ll think of every possible issue that could crop up as you begin tracking outcomes in your practice—at least not alone.

To prepare for as many potential problems as possible (how’s that for alliteration?), you’ve got to incorporate a variety of perspectives. And what better way to do that than roping your entire practice into the planning process? Schedule a team brainstorming session and ask your staff to hit you with their concerns—no holds barred. To identify all potential barriers to outcomes success, you’re going to need some brutal honesty. But keep the tone constructive; make it clear that this is a meeting to find solutions—not spout off complaints.

3. Don’t leave your patients in the dark.

Patient-reported outcome measures (PROMs) require patient participation. Okay, in response to all of the hushed “duhs” that I’m sure that last sentence elicited, here’s my point: you can’t have a successful patient-reported outcomes tracking program if your patients don’t report their outcomes. They have to actually fill out the tests—honestly, accurately, and completely—if you want your data to genuinely mean something. Thus, it’s imperative that you educate your patients on:

  1. How to complete each questionnaire,
  2. How you will use their responses, and
  3. How their participation benefits them directly.

One easy way to provide that education: Include an introductory paragraph at the top of each test explaining the purpose of the survey. Here’s an example, adapted from this resource:

Please complete this survey as thoroughly and honestly as possible. There are no right or wrong answers, and while some items may be more relevant to your case than others, we encourage you to answer all questions. Your responses will provide insight into how we’re doing and how we can better help you progress toward your goals. Your individual survey information will be shared with our care team only.

4. Establish a process for administering outcomes questionnaires.

While the manner in which you distribute your tests is totally up to you, I highly recommend having first-time PROM participants complete their questionnaires in the clinic—perhaps in the waiting room right after check-in (just make sure you allow time for this when scheduling appointments). That way, if they get stuck or have questions, help is a shout away. For follow-up surveys, you may want to mail or securely email the test to the patient in advance and instruct him or her to bring the printed and completed survey to his or her next appointment. Either way, I would caution against therapist participation in administering PROMs—something I’ll discuss in the next section.   

5. Identify the person—or people—responsible for each outcomes tracking touchpoint.

Outcomes tracking is a clinic-wide initiative. And to make that initiative a successful one, each staff member must know—and follow through on—his or her role in the process. With that in mind, you’ll need to designate a point person for each step in the data-tracking process and then train that person on how to complete his or her assigned tasks. Here are some tips and suggestions for incorporating those steps into your clinic’s normal workflow:

  • Test administration: Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide how to administer patient-reported tests in your clinic. However, to preserve the integrity of the test and the accuracy of the responses, I would strongly recommend having patients complete their questionnaires independent of their therapists. That way, they won’t feel pressured to answer in a certain way (see number four above for suggestions on how to do this).
  • Results entry: After a patient completes a test, the therapist may want to go over the responses with the patient during his or her evaluation/treatment session. The therapist could enter the scores into the outcomes software at that time; go back later and enter the scores; or have another staff member (e.g., a PTA or tech) enter the scores. Keep in mind that if you are scoring the tests manually (i.e., you are not using a software tool to score your tests), then you’ll need to allow time and resources for that process.
  • Analysis: Speaking of software, unless you want to create your own spreadsheets and configure them with your own formulas and data equations, i’d recommend using a system that’ll analyze the data for you—and present it to you in a visual, easily digestible manner. Remember, to make your outcomes tracking efforts worthwhile, you have to make sure your program sticks—and a software can alleviate many of the pain points (e.g., tedious manual data-entry and analysis) that could potentially derail your outcomes aspirations.
  • Follow-up: The point of tracking outcomes data is to show progress. That being said, you probably don’t want to spend time administering outcomes questionnaires at every single patient visit, because doing so would be not only incredibly time-consuming, but also potentially counterproductive. After all, patients aren’t going to make substantial gains from one visit to the next; it’s going to take several days—maybe even weeks—of consistent therapy for patients to experience real, positive change. Thus, I’d recommend spreading out your follow-up test administration accordingly. Finally, make sure you close the loop by conducting an outcomes assessment at discharge (or treatment conclusion).

There you have it: a blueprint for working outcomes data collection into your workflow. Are you planning to build an outcomes tracking program into your clinic’s operations? What questions do you have? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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