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  • Survey of PTs Reveals 'Significantly Inadequate' Rates of BP and HR Measurement

    Despite the frequency with which physical therapists (PTs) in outpatient settings encounter patients who have or are at risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD), rates of blood pressure (BP) and heart rate (HR) screening remain "significantly inadequate," say authors of a new study based on a nationwide survey of PTs. The survey reveals that only 14.8% of respondents reported measuring BP and HR on initial examination of new patients, and sheds some light on factors that influence the tendency to perform the screens—or forgo them.

    The analysis, published in the July issue of PTJ (Physical Therapy), is based on survey responses from 1,812 PTs who worked in outpatient settings and were members of the APTA Academy of Orthopaedic Physical Therapy at the time of the survey. The survey was administered online and consisted of 30 multiple-choice questions that delved into CVD-risk screening behaviors and related rationales as well as demographics and education background of the respondents, and patient characteristics.

    The results showed that although 51% of PTs reported that at least half of their current caseload included patients with or at moderate-to-severe risk of developing CVD—and 28% reported that more than 50% of their patients were in this category—only 14.8% said that BP and HR screenings were a regular part of their initial examination of a new patient. When researchers dug deeper into the results, they uncovered other interesting details, including:

    • Nearly 7 in 10 PTs (68.9%) said they encountered a new patient with or at risk for CVD at least twice a week, and 29% said they encountered this kind of new patient daily.
    • In terms of how frequently BP and HR were measured at the initial visit, 63.74% of the respondents reported doing the measurements less than 50% of the time; 39.8% said they conducted the screenings less than 25% of the time; and 13% responded by saying that they never measured BP or HR.
    • The most commonly reported barriers to BP and HR screening were lack of time (37.44%) and "lack of perceived importance" (35.62%). Most respondents reported that they were adequately equipped to perform routine screening and felt confident in their ability to do so.
    • When it came to factors that were linked to more frequent BP and HR measurements, respondents with higher percentages of patients with or at risk for CVD tended to perform the screenings more often, as did PTs who had completed a residency or fellowship training program, and clinicians with more than 20 years of practice experience. Possessing a board-certified specialization credential of any kind was not linked with increased likelihood of conducting the screenings.

    Authors of the PTJ article describe the results as "surprising," particularly given the typical respondent caseload and the PTs' apparent confidence in their ability to perform BP and HR screenings. They write that current rates, while better than in the past, are still "significantly inadequate in relation to the high rates of CVD risk factors present in the patient population."

    As for what might be done to improve the rates, the researchers point to the link between postprofessional education (specifically, residencies and fellowships) and increased screening as one promising possibility, but they also stress other avenues for increasing clinician knowledge, such as wider use of social media to "improve clinician knowledge and practice patterns." Clinics could make a difference as well, they add, by changing policy to emphasize the importance of initial BP and HR measurements.

    APTA members Richard Severin, PT, DPT, PhD(c); Adam Wielechowski, PT, DPT; and Shane Phillips, PT, PhD, were among the authors of the study. Severin is a board-certified cardiopulmonary clinical specialist; Wielechowski is a board-certified specialist in orthopaedic physical therapy.

    [Editor's note: for an exploration of the importance of blood pressure screening and the role of PTs, check out this #PTTransforms blog post that discusses the impact of changes made to blood pressure guidelines in 2018.]

    Research-related stories featured in PT in Motion News are intended to highlight a topic of interest only and do not constitute an endorsement by APTA. For synthesized research and evidence-based practice information, visit the association's PTNow website.