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  • Early Physical Therapy for Low Back Pain Associated With Reduced Utilization and Costs

    A new study published in Spine shows that early treatment by a physical therapist for low back pain (LBP) was associated with less risk of subsequent health care utilization and lower overall health care costs than delayed treatment.

    Using a national database of employer-sponsored health plans, researchers examined a sample of 32,070 patients who were newly consulting a primary care physician for low back pain. Patients were identified and categorized based on their use of physical therapist services within 90 days of the consultation. Those who were referred to a physical therapist early (within 14 days of the consultation) showed a reduced risk of subsequent health care utilization and experienced lower overall health care costs than did those patients with delayed treatment by a physical therapist (within 15-90 days of consultation).

    During an 18-month follow-up period, researchers found that early treatment by a physical therapist was associated with reduced risk of subsequent surgery, injections, physician visits, opioid use, and advanced imaging, along with a corresponding reduction in overall LBP-related medical costs relative to delayed treatment by a physical therapist. Total health care costs for patients receiving early care from a physical therapist were an average of $2,736.23 lower.

    The study found that patients using a PPO plan were more likely to receive early treatment from a physical therapist (53.4%) than those using an HMO plan (44.7%). Also, the highest rates of physical therapist utilization were found in the Northeast and West. Patients in the Midwest were more likely to seek early treatment from a physical therapist (58.7%).

    Read more about this study, including comments from lead author and APTA member Julie M. Fritz, PT, PhD, ATC, and an April 20 article in Spine that also supports the benefits of early physical therapy for low back pain, in APTA's press release.

    New York Times Highlights How Physical Therapy Keeps Soldiers 'Doing Their Job'

    The toll of multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan on soldiers' bodies and how physical therapy can help them keep "doing their job, living their lives with as little pain as possible," is highlighted in a New York Times  article featuring APTA member CPT Rachel Odom, PT.

    Odom is the only physical therapist (PT) assigned to the 3,500 men and women of the Fourth Brigade Combat Team of the 25th Infantry Division serving in Afghanistan. Odom manages the soldiers for "twisted knees, back pains, or shoulder strains," injuries associated with elaborate body armor that can add "at least 35 pounds to a soldier's load," and concussions sustained by roadside bombs.

    Army Ranger units were the first to include PTs, rather than have them stay back at the hospital or in separate medical units. But now with their success, PTs have spread into mainstream combat units. Odom is the first PT assigned to her brigade, says the Times.  

    HHS Launches Tools to Help People With Alzheimer Disease

    A new website recently launched by the Department of Health and Human Services offers information and resources about Alzheimer disease and related dementias. Users can find links to authoritative, up-to-date information from agencies and organizations with expertise in these areas and comprehensive information from federal, state, and private organizations on a range of topics. Visitors to www.alzheimers.gov/ will find tools to identify local resources that can help with the challenges of daily living, emotional needs, and financial issues related to dementia. Video interviews with real family caregivers explain why such information is essential to successful caregiving.

    It's not too late to register for APTA's 2-day preconference course Alzheimer Disease: Rehabilitation Considerations in the Examination, Evaluation, and Interventions, to be held June 5-6 in Tampa, Florida. This 5-part course will address pathological changes, functional manifestations, and changing rehabilitation perspectives related to Alzheimer disease. The course offers 1.7 CEUs (17 contact hours/CCUs).