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 first outcomes tracking software that fully integrates with a therapy-specific EMR. It’s an incredibly simple, intuitive product—but the road leading to its release has been long and complex. Here’s a look back at how it all came to be:
Once Upon a Time
When you work on something long enough, it’s easy to forget why you started it in the first place. Work that was once motivating turns into something tedious and monotonous. It happens to the best of us, and it happens more than most of would like to admit.
Knowing this very human tendency, WebPT co-founder and president Heidi Jannenga made sure the entire Outcomes team understood how important outcomes tracking is in our company’s overall mission of empowering therapists to achieve greatness. After all, collecting outcomes data is about more than driving patient satisfaction, bettering care at the individual provider level, and increasing referrals and payments. Sure, those are all great benefits, but the real value of outcomes data is its ability to elevate the entire rehab industry, so we can prove that rehab therapists deserve a seat at the healthcare decision-making table. In other words, collecting outcomes data is about demonstrating—objectively and definitively—the value of rehab therapy.
This understanding kept the product and development teams grounded and focused from day one. And according to WebPT Outcomes product owner Doug Severson, ATC, CSCS, it’s the reason that our passion never faded into indifference: “When I worked in a PT clinic, we only completed OMTs because certain insurance companies required us to,” Severson said. “It felt like the insurance company was trying to tell us what to do. It seemed like they were using those improvement scores only to dictate how many visits a patient would get. It got so frustrating, because you know you’re not going to see a statistically significant change from one visit to another.” As a result, Severson was a bit skeptical when we started this project, but it didn’t take long for his attitude to change: “Now I understand the power of the data—the therapist’s ability to use data in the clinic to make better choices for care,” he said. “It’s been eye-opening.”
“As a therapist, if you’re being proactive in your clinic by collecting and reviewing data, then you get to use that data how you choose. If you collect it only because insurance companies ask for it, then you’re at their mercy.”
EMR Meets Outcomes
For this project to be successful, we needed to build a completely integrated solution—one with the same interface as the application—that Members could access using their WebPT login. We knew the project would fail if we added a separate system or interrupted the current data-collection workflow.
We had two basic options for building integrated outcomes tracking into WebPT: start from scratch or buy a solution. After many conversations with the team at WebOutcomes, we knew we’d found more than a solution; we’d found a partner. In 2014, after a few months of “dating,” we put a ring on it, which in our world means we welcomed WebOutcomes—and all the historical data it had amassed—into the WebPT family. That’s when the real fun began, because partnering with WebOutcomes was only the first step in our outcomes journey; we still had to design and build a seamless outcomes tracking experience within WebPT.
A Match Made in Software Heaven
Thankfully, after the acquisition, many WebPT Members expressed interest in participating in the beta program to help test the new solution and provide feedback to our product managers and designers throughout several stages of the product’s lifecycle. This process was incredibly valuable, because it allowed us to glean important insights about what our Members wanted from an outcomes tracking tool. During this discovery process, Severson and the product team showed beta program participants the work-in-progress version of our outcomes software and educated them about the future vision to “get some initial feedback and make sure [the Product team members] were on the right track.” Through these interviews, “the team learned how people currently track outcomes data, the problems with that process, and the wish lists for improving it,” Severson said.
Beta participant Mike Evangelist, MS, PT, who is the clinical director at JAG Physical Therapy in New York and New Jersey, explained how his company collected and processed outcomes data: “Before WebPT Outcomes, we gave this task to three or four interns at a time,” Evangelist explained. “They would be assigned specific ICD-9/ICD-10 codes to look for with our WebPT patients, and they would retrieve the outcome score data from the initial eval, progress report, then discharge summary. These numbers would then be put into an Excel spreadsheet, and we would calculate the percentage improvements manually based on diagnosis codes.”
Beta feedback also validated the team’s decisions about which OMTs to include in the launch edition of the product. We reviewed popular OMTs used across the entire healthcare industry—not just those used in therapy. At the beginning of the project, Jannenga told the team:
“If we’re going to use this data to effect change, then we need to collect and report data that everyone—regardless of specialty—understands.”
After extensive research and feedback from beta participants, the teams landed on the following industry-accepted tests:
- Quick DASH
- Lower Extremity Functional Scale (LEFS)
- Neck Disability Index
- Dizziness Handicap Inventory
- Hip Disability and Osteoarthritis Outcome Score (HOOS)
- Modified Falls Efficacy Scale (MFES)
The Next Chapter
Developing products requires artfully balancing doing too much and doing too little. Doing too much often gives way to a quest for perfection—which can lead to never actually releasing anything, because it’s never quite perfect. Doing too little can lead to sacrificing quality for speed (i.e., releasing a product nobody wants to use because it doesn’t provide any value). Beta feedback is one way product owners like Severson can find a happy medium. Luckily for WebPT—and all of our Members—Severson is the Chuck Norris of product management (much like WebPT Outcomes is the Chuck Norris of PT).
One important thing that came out of Heidi’s early vision as well as beta program feedback was the need for patients to be able to enter their own outcomes values—so therapists wouldn’t have to. This is a great example of the too much/too little conundrum: to provide patients with the ability to enter their own data at the launch of Outcomes, we would have had to postpone the release of the entire product. So, in the interest of achieving that ever-so-elusive balance, the team settled on allowing front office staff the ability to enter outcomes data at patient check-in. It’s not perfect, but it’s still valuable. And it’s only for now. In fact, according to Severson, patient questionnaire entry is one of the next features we plan to roll out to “streamline data collection”—then we’re “adding more OMTs.”
“We know the first OMTs will work for now because they’re so universal,” Severson said. “But we want to add many more. You are your hardest critic, but I’m proud of the initial feedback. I feel great that so many users who have been in the beta program over the last couple of months got so much value out of the beta version that they decided—without hesitation—to jump on board and take advantage of the full Outcomes product.”
Want to learn more about WebPT Outcomes and how data collection can give your practice a leg-up in the changing healthcare landscape? Check out this page. Have questions about our Outcomes product or outcomes tracking in general? Hit us up in the comment section below.