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  • APTA, Alliance for Physical Therapy Quality and Innovation Report Explores Relationship of 'Baseline' Patient Factors and Patient-Reported Outcomes

    Many patients who see a physical therapist (PT) bring more than just a movement system issue to the clinic: they bring a host of "baseline" factors that can impact patient-reported outcomes (PROs). That reality raises a big question: given a patient's individual mix of comorbidities, socioeconomic status, payer type, and other elements at the onset of treatment, how can PTs, payers, and patients know what constitutes a "typical" amount of improvement—and can currently available data provide any insight?

    APTA and the Alliance for Physical Therapy Quality and Innovation (Alliance) are aiming to get a handle on those questions and already have taken a significant step forward in the release of a report that explores benchmarks of quality care. In a joint news release, the 2 organizations describe the document as "the largest multipractice analysis of open-source, risk-adjusted clinical outcomes in the outpatient physical therapy industry."

    To tackle this project, APTA and the Alliance contracted with the Center for Effectiveness Research in Orthopaedics to take a close look at baseline and PRO data from 375,000 patient episodes in 50 states, all related to outpatient orthopedic physical therapy involving spine, shoulder, and knee care. The data were supplied by WebPT, Intermountain, ATI, and PTNorthwest. Those 4 companies, along with APTA, the Alliance, Select Medical, BMS Practice Solutions, ATI Physical Therapy, and US Physical Therapy compose the Physical Therapy Industry Outcome Workgroup responsible for developing the final report

    Among the workgroup's findings:

    Baseline patient data currently available through typical electronic medical records (EMRs) can explain a lot.
    "Payer type, patient socio demographic factors, and comorbidities at baseline all had strong effects on PRO changes over episodes of care," the report states. "Differences in these baseline patient factors must be accounted for to ensure fair performance comparisons of physical therapists."

    Despite baseline patient factors, physical therapists are making an overall difference in patients' lives.
    Researchers found that clinically important improvements in PROs were achieved in all 3 body regions over 12-14 visits.

    When it comes to risk adjustment, the data are there...
    The project also explored just how much patient baseline data are needed to establish risk-adjustment algorithms, labeled "minimal," "practical," and "optimal." In the end, researchers found that the "practical" dataset—commonly available EMR data that include payer source, weight, BMI, sex, patient zip code, and the presence of comorbidities and history of smoking—were sufficient to provide insight on variation in PROs.

    …The data can be put to use right now…
    The report includes risk-adjusted regression models for neck, shoulder, and spine patients that estimate levels of PRO change for every baseline variable in all 3 dataset models: "minimal," "practical," and "optimal."

    …And more is always better.
    "The completeness of data necessary for risk adjustment was a limitation of this project with only 8.8% of the patient episodes received [having] appropriate baseline and discharge PROs and only 6.3% [having] measures of the appropriate set of risk-adjustment factors," the report states. "Physical therapy organizations must be committed to institutional strategies that promote the collection of PROs at baseline and baseline patient factors into existing EMRs."

    Heather Smith, PT, MPH, APTA's director of quality, believes the report sheds light on 2 important issues: the value of physical therapy no matter the patient baseline characteristics, and the crucial need for consistent and thorough data that can help drive that point home.

    "The findings in this report add more depth to what we already know—that physical therapy improves patients' lives in ways patients can see and feel, even when other factors affect outcomes," Smith said. "But just as important, it points to the absolute necessity of widespread, standardized data collection and outcomes reporting throughout the profession. The more data we compile, the more we can help our patients and make the case for the effectiveness of our interventions."

    [Editor's note: APTA's Physical Therapy Outcomes Registry is a key player in the collection of data to improve patient care and strengthen the profession, and actively collects PROs as well as risk variables. Find out how you can participate in the Registry.]