Sometimes, basic assumptions beg to be questioned. Just ask physical therapists (PTs) in the oncology rehabilitation department of Froedtert Hospital and Medical College of Wisconsin, who wondered why prevention and wellness couldn't be a part of the patient experience from the moment they entered the facility's doors.
That questioning led to the development of an innovative group exercise program for patients checked in to the hospital for chemotherapy and other treatments primarily related to blood cancers—and so far, the program seems to be allowing many patients to leave as mobile, if not more so, than when they arrived. On June 13, the PTs shared their story of how they established and grew the program, known as the "Strength in Numbers" exercise class, as part of APTA's NEXT Conference and Exhibition in Chicago.
The idea behind the program was based on a reality check of the typical path of an oncology patient visiting the hospital for treatment, explained Kelly Colgrove, PT. Unlike patients who arrive with other conditions such as congestive heart failure, "our patients walk in strong and independently." During the course of treatment, however, they often experience decreased muscle strength, challenging PTs to play catch-up before the patient is discharged.
The Froedert PTs wanted to "Strength in Numbers" change that. As it now operates, the program—known as "SIN" to the amusement of patients—offers a 1-hour group circuit training class 2 times a week. Colgrove describe SIN as "a fun environment based on camaraderie and music, but all within the acute care setting."
Patients are selected for the voluntary program based on their health at the time of check-in, Colgrove explained. Those whose condition is more fragile receive more typical 1-on-1 physical therapy. But the patients who qualify for SIN are assessed, given goals, and scheduled to participate in the group. Once the SIN group, patients still can choose to return to the more traditional therapy program.
Besides the direct physical benefits to patients, the SIN program has helped to reinforce what the presenters call a "culture of mobility" at the hospital.
The presenters led attendees through their process of developing and maintaining the program, encouraging audience members to think about similar possibilities in their own practice settings. They explained the importance of a solid basis in research, careful consideration of stakeholder concerns, evaluation of current and needed resources, and program metrics to evaluate outcomes, among other areas.
Through their recaps, the presenters demonstrated how flexibility and creativity are key elements in all areas of development, implementation, and evaluation. "Being able to adapt and evolve is going to be key," explained Alyssa Kelsey, PT, DPT. For the SIN program, that means seeking ongoing input from patients and staff, as well as monthly check-in meetings to monitor operations and identify future goals.
That flexibility should also include the capacity to question your own assumptions and evaluative measures, explained Colgrove. "Sometimes, the questions you think you want to answer at the beginning of the program may not be the questions you want to answer after a year," she said.
One question has been consistent throughout the SIN program: Does it work? So far, the answer seems to be yes. Outcome measures for patients with a length of stay longer than 20 days and more than 50% participation in SIN found that 72% maintained or improved their 5-time sit-to-stand scores, 64% maintained or improved on Functional Gait Assessment, and 53% maintained or bettered their scores related to self-perceived deficits at discharge.
And if patient enthusiasm for the program is any measure, the SIN program also seems to be doing well: according to the presenters, patients frequently have the same criticism of the offering—that the classes only occur 2 days a week.