With record attendance—more than 11,000 rehab therapy professionals from all over the US—CSM 2016 in Anaheim, California, was abuzz with energy and enthusiasm. When I wasn’t running around in search of folks wearing “I heart PT” buttons so I could give them prizes (did you catch us on Gene Shirokobrod’s Periscope?), I was busy attending sessions in the Private Practice track. I made it to eight fantastic presentations—and wished I could have seen more. If you were following along with me as I live-tweeted from the conference, you know the sessions were full of incredibly valuable information from some of the best and brightest experts in the industry. It was a challenge to briefly sum up my experience, but I somehow managed to pick out my three biggest takeaways from CSM 2016:

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1. PTs are ridiculously cool—and ridiculously underrated.

Yes, this is the warm and fuzzy part of my recap (sorry not sorry). Physical therapists are some of the most well-educated and hard-working folks I’ve ever met. They’re also deeply passionate, caring, and dedicated to their patients and their profession. That’s cool. You’re cool. So why is it that physical therapy accounts for only 2-3% of healthcare costs in America?

In his presentation, “Exceptional Care and Profitability in Light of Health Care Reform for Patients with Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain,” Adriaan Louw, PT, PhD, CSMT, co-founder and CEO of ISPI, sadly declared that physical therapists are “so damn good—the only problem is nobody knows.” And that’s a real shame because PTs are kinda like the Liam Neeson of healthcare: they have a very particular set of skills. No, they’re not useful for hunting down kidnappers (well, I can’t say that for sure). But as Cameron Garber, DPT, said in his session—titled “Metabolic Testing: A Cash-Based Preventative Fitness Program to Improve Patient Wellness”—it’s because of these skills that PTs “can offer a different level of care” than other healthcare professionals. But here’s the catch: you have to be able to prove it. Enter: takeaway #2.

2. Demonstrating the value of physical therapy is critical.

One step toward proving value? Making sure your documentation supports the treatment you’re providing. In his sessions on documenting to support medical necessity, Rick Gawenda, PT, made it clear that physical therapists must document in a way that proves their treatment requires clinical skill. While Rick was quick to say that “documentation is not a novel,” it does require you to be explicit: “Demonstrate what you’re doing for the patient...why did you choose this intervention? Why is it necessary?” But that’s just one piece of the value puzzle.

Rick also encouraged physical therapists to “get the tape measure out” during evaluations and reevaluations because “we need to have objective data.” Without objective data, you can’t prove that your treatment is working—and that means you can’t prove that you deserve to get paid for it. Adriaan Louw echoed Rick’s sentiment on data, definitively stating, “Numbers don’t lie.” But Adriaan went one step further, insisting that PTs have “got to measure outcomes.” Adriaan said that “all we want is for people to ask the right questions” regarding their healthcare; but when they do, will you be ready to answer those questions in a way that undeniably supports the value of physical therapy? Changing the public’s perception of healthcare won’t be easy, and PTs won’t do themselves any favors if they bring knives to a gunfight. That’s why, as a therapist, you should instead arm yourself with the power of objective outcomes data.

3. Physical therapy is the future of health care.

“Movement is the biggest pain killer in the world.” This quote from Adriaan Louw was the top tweet from CSM—and for good reason: 100 million Americans have some form of persistent pain. Why is it such an epidemic? According to Adriaan, “the way we look at pain is wrong [and] we’ve been measuring the wrong things.” PT can change that. In fact, for surgery patients, physical therapy could save the US $2.1 billion in healthcare costs within three years post-op. In the first year alone, pain education results in patients spending 45% less on healthcare. That’s why I firmly believe in this bold statement from Adriaan Louw regarding healthcare reform: “PTs have nothing to lose and all to gain.”

But pain treatment isn’t the only opportunity for PTs to stake their claim on the new healthcare landscape; you also can take advantage of the growing wellness sector. Cameron Garber, DPT, lamented that "patients are being told they’re fat and going to die—but are offered no solution” by their doctors. PT is the solution. Physical therapists are movement experts; no one else is so perfectly positioned to help these patients—and to succeed in the pay-for-performance healthcare model. Physical therapy is the future of healthcare. Prove it, and they will come.


If you want to know more about what I learned—and what WebPT was up to—at CSM 2016, scroll through my live-tweets from the conference. Still experiencing major FOMO? You can catch up on everything you missed by searching for #APTACSM on Twitter.

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