Rethinking Possibilities When It Comes to Research
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When most of us think about research, we think of randomized control trials, prominent authors, grants, institutional review boards (IRBs), and dreaded statistics. Daunting, right?
Not only that, but a common misconception is that if you are outside the university setting, you are unable to contribute to research for our profession.
I'm here to assure you that there are plenty of opportunities for those in private practice.
Improving internal clinical quality
While publishing a case series was my first official research contribution, it was clinical quality and analyzing internal results that started my research journey.
Our practice used FOTO to assess patient outcomes and satisfaction, but measures, such as cancellation rate and visits per episode of care, can provide insight into the clinical quality of a practice.
In addition, we can assess other variables and their impact on our quality numbers (eg, comorbidities, patient age, diagnosis codes, chronicity).
This internal research can provide valuable insights for your peers to drive improvements in clinical quality.
It is important to note that if you wish to publish observational data externally, you will need an IRB. This is where collaborations with universities can be beneficial, which I will cover later.
Case studies/series: poster presentations and manuscripts
As I previously mentioned, my first publication was a case series for the Journal of Othopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy.
Reporting on a case is a great opportunity to showcase either a unique patient type or a treatment approach that your peers would find interesting and beneficial.
While you cannot determine effectiveness or cause without a control and large sample size, you can provide a framework for future studies and plant the seed for additional questions.
It is also a great way to enter the field of research without an abundance of resources (eg, grants, research team, equipment).
Which leads me to my final point.
At the end of the day, research is about progressing our profession. Physical therapy is an outstanding profession, and we have a tremendous opportunity to help patients every day.
To provide the best care and to ensure adequate access (ie, direct access), we need to show our value in the literature.
Universities have the technical expertise and many needed resources (eg, IRBs, PhDs experienced in research design), while practices have large amounts of patient data in addition to clinical experts.
Together, we can drive the profession forward and advocate for the many benefits of physical therapy far greater than we can apart.
If you are interested in getting involved in research, I highly encourage you to seek a mentor, identify needs, and build relationships in all areas of the profession.
When researching an area that you are interested in and with a design to stimulate you, it turns out to be more enjoyable than you might suspect.
Zach Walston, PT, DPT, is currently the National Director of Quality and Research at PT Solutions Physical Therapy. Zach also serves as the assistant program director of the PT Solutions Orthopedic Residency Program and the director of the PT Solutions Mentorship Program. You can connect with Zach via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.