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Taking a jump

“ in fact, when you understand that you don’t have to justify your dreams to anyone else for any reason, that’s the day you truly begin to step into what you’re meant to be.“

I’m going to agree to disagree on this one. As you heard before, I made quick changes in my career without consulting my then wife…that relationship ended.

Although I don’t have to justify my dreams, I have to justify my decisions to my family. Making a quick jump, or even a well-thought-out jump, to satisfy my dream may not be worth it if the dream adversely affects family finance or security.

For instance, I quit the hospital the third time (that’s right, they took me back a second and third time) in order to chase a dream of managing my own clinic. I took a stupid pay cut in order to do this. I chose to cut my own pay by almost 20%. Not only that, I quit the cushy hospital job to go manage a clinic that was easily losing $100K per year. After 6 months of following my dream…reality set in. My wife said that I had to make a decision of opening my own clinic and leaving this one or going to find a job.

That was a smart move on her part. Although I increased the number of patients that were coming into the clinic by a little over 10%, it still wasn’t enough to justify the overhead that I inherited and the salary that I was getting. I was averaging about 28 visits per week, but that amount of money barely covered the overhead. There was no chance of profiting any time soon. Because of that, there was no chance of getting a raise any time soon. Mind you, during this time period I was also ranked in an honorable

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.updocmedia.com/2017-top-40-influencers/amp/

Class by my peers. This was my opportunity to advance my lot in life. I am now making about 10% more than when I left the hospital and this year will mark my break even point. Every week after this year marks a betterment than where I was when working for the hospital. The cool thing is that I am still following my initial dream because I now have my own company, am managing patients the way I feel appropriate, and have created close relationships with many physicians and the community I serve. This was what I set out to do when I initially left the hospital.

Don’t get me wrong, Palos Hospital was a great place to work. I worked with an unbelievable team in which we all respected each other’s strengths and there were no egos on the team. (I say that because I may have had the biggest ego at the time so no one else appeared to have an ego in comparison.) None of us would hesitate to reach out to another PT or PTA if we were stuck with a patient. I have always recommended anyone to take a job there if they have the opportunity. My chief complaint with the hospital was that there was no chance of advancing one’s career, and I was looking for more.

If I never took that chance to chase a dream, I would still be in a job that I was frustrated with, although more changes were made after I left which may have satisfied my need for change. If my wife didn’t have that conversation about the reality of finances, I may still be trying to steer a sinking ship that I inevitably had no control over.

I now am in a spot to have more control and am avale to support my family while advancing my career, community involvement, and education of peers.

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Que será será

“ as long as you’re not asking anyone to give you approval, then you don’t need anyone to give you permission.”

This reminds me of the saying “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission”. I heard this phrase frequently from one of my former bosses at Palos.

Man I miss that guy.

You know that type of relationship? The one that only two guys can have with each other in which they share ideas, for better or worse. They share their day. They are just open and honest with each other. Those relationships are few and far between and I’m just blessed that I got to share that relationship while at work, because that’s where I spent a majority of my days.

Back to the point of the story:

When I believe that I am doing the right thing, I have no reason to ask for permission. This has gotten me into hot water at times during my career. There was one job that I quit over lunch. I did what I felt was right, but what was right wasn’t what was best for business. After the second time the owner pulled me aside to have this conversation… about doing what is best for business…I quit on the spot. Mind you, this is not the most professional thing to do, but I had to stand up for my moral belief system.

Since I didn’t care about the owner’s approval…or the job for that matter…I walked out.

Let’s talk about that job. I made a mistake in taking that job. I quit Palos Hospital, this was the first time that I quit the hospital job.

I quit a decent paying job, at the time I wasn’t making much at the hospital because I hadn’t served my time. Sometimes working at a hospital is like a prison sentence. You get cred (more money) for time served. Unfortunately, it was hard to get raises based on achievement, extra-curricular activity, or simply by producing the most money for the department. The secret to getting the highest pay was simply outlasting the next fella.

I made a mistake in taking that job, after leaving the hospital, because I just took ANY job. I didn’t thoroughly research the company, which is something that I do now. I didn’t shadow the clinic multiple times, which is something that I do now. I didn’t talk to the employees about how they enjoyed their job or if they could do it again…would they, which is something that I do now.

I took that job because the commute was wicked short. It only took me 4 minutes to get to work and home. It was so awesome that I actually bought a bike and rode to work. That stint lasted a whole 8 weeks. I bought a commuter bike, GIANT brand, which cost me about $900. I didn’t work at this job long enough to recoup the money I spent on the bike.

Oh well…you live and learn.

Anyways…I quit over lunch and the hospital took me back (second time being hired) that afternoon.

The point is if you don’t need anyone’s approval, then you don’t need permission.

Funny story…I was married at this time.

When I quit Palos (the first time) I literally walked into FWs office and said that I was giving my two weeks notice. I had no plan. I had no job waiting for me. There was no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

I quit Palos (the first time) because I signed up to make an impact. I wanted to change the way the hospital was doing therapy. I wanted to be innovative and create new programs. I eventually accomplished all of this…just not the first go around.

The second go around did not last much longer, but that’s a different sorry for a different day.

I remember walking out of the office and going outside to call my then wife at the time to tell her that I just quit my job, after less than a year on the job.

If you don’t need approval…you don’t need permission. Needless to say, that marriage didn’t last long. We were both so career oriented that neither of us asked permission before making major changes.

Que será será.

Go to Physical Therapy to be Physical…think again

“affecting 60% to 80% of individuals during their lifetime”

This statistic gets thrown around so much that all PTs should know this without thinking about it.

LBP is such a common occurrence that many non-healthcare professionals are giving advice about how to fix it.

I was at a fundraiser recently and I heard people talking about back pain as part of the conversations had between laypeople. This is how prevalent that it has become, discussions of back pain have made their way into everyday conversation. Everyone and their mother has a remedy for it.

I heard about cutting out sugars, rolling on tennis balls and soaking in Epsom salt. It wasn’t until someone in the group turned to me (they had a previous knowledge of the website) that people stopped giving advice and started asking for information.

The public wants information. On that note, if you’ve found any information from this website helpful…please share it so others can learn.

“total annual direct healthcare costs in the United States incurred by patients with LBP were estimated at $90 billion in 1998, 60% higher than individuals without LBP.”

🤔

Sounds like we can start to create a change in total costs if we could just be better at treating this issue.

Back pain is top 5 reasons a person seeks out a healthcare provider.

We are spending so much money on this problem…you’d think we’d be making a dent in the number of people with back pain, and the expenses incurred for this ailment.

Nope!

Reading the rest of this post will start to shed light on why our system, as a whole, has a lot of sucky (scientific term 👍) parts.

“Recent reports suggest that the use of physical therapy for patients with LBP is increasing.”

This makes so many people tho I that our profession (as a PT) is booming. Yes, there is a bigger pool of patients daily, but insurance payments have been decreasing for decades.

This is a different conversation, but it also plays a role in why clinicians may choose on intervention over another.

Soapbox

***For instance, if there are 3 people in the clinic at the same time (which could be considered fraudulent if this is occurring for patients using Medicare as insurance), the therapist has to make the patient perform some activities independently (which also should not be billed for patients with Medicare) or they would have to place the patient on a non-effective piece of equipment in order to be paid, while the PT works with another patient. ***

It then makes sense that the use of PT is increasing if we are performing ineffective techniques in order to maximize reimbursement. Not all PTs operate in this fashion, but if the above scenario sounds familiar…go get a second, third or fourth opinion.

“…Consistent in recommending an active approach to pair with emphasis on maintaining and promoting activity, while avoiding passive interventions such as bed rest or physical methods (heat/cold, ultrasound, etc.)”

Look folks, doing nothing gets you nothing. We know this in many aspects of life. Don’t work, don’t get paid. This is no different.

If the patient doesn’t play an active role in the process of rehabilitation, the results tend to be no better than doing nothing…because that’s exactly what the patient is doing in many cases.

For instance, if a patient goes to physical therapy and the patient lays there while “therapy” is performed on the patient, then the patient has little active role aside from showing up and paying.

This has become such a problem in our profession that our national organization had to come up with a short read to help patients understand what generic therapy look like during an episode of care.

“…Adherence to this recommendation for an active approach was associated with better clinical outcomes of physical therapy, with fewer visits in lower charges for care.”

If a patient learns a home program that has been shown, in the clinic, to be effective at reducing that specific patient’s complaint, why should that patient go to a physical therapy session to get unproven passive treatment or to simply repeat the same exercises over and over?

I’ll wait for your response…because I don’t know the answer to this question aside from the fact that increasing a patient’s frequency in therapy also increases the total profits of the company benefitting from the therapy.

“… it is now understood that the natural history of LBP includes subsequent periods of exacerbation and recurrence for most individuals.”

A high percentage of patients, anywhere from 25% up to 80%, experience multiple periods of low back pain during the lifespan.

How one defines recurrence has a huge role in how this number is determined. It used to be that researchers would look at a group of patients with low back pain and then see how many of them had back pain one year later. The problem with this approach is that for many of the patients, the pain never went away from the first episode.

How can this be classified as a recurrence if it never went away?!

Better questions were then asked and about 25% of patients experience at least a period of one month of relief before having a recurrence.

Because of this, it is prudent for the PT (physical therapist, not personal trainer) to teach the patient how to self-manage and to reduce as many risk factors that one particular patient has for developing back pain in the future.

“The ratio of active: passive codes had to be at least 3:1 for each phase, and every visit had to have at least one active code for the patient care to be considered inherent to guideline recommendations.”

I think that this is very conservative.

This means that for each hour a patient is seen, anywhere from 8-22 minutes are spent on manual (hands on) therapy, ultrasound, electrical stimulation, heat, ice.

The other 38-52 minutes are spent working on balance, exercise, returning to a functional activity.

This type of scenario would allow for 3 units of an active charge (75% of the session) and 1 unit of a passive charge (25% of the session).

Keep in mind, a clinician doesn’t have to follow this type of ratio, but a higher ratio of passive treatment is not consistent with the guidelines of treating patients with back pain.

“Consistent with previous studies, a successful outcome was defined as achieving at least 50% improvement on the 0SW – disability score.”

I’ve seen many patients that have gone through an episode of care without any relief before coming to see me in the clinic. For patients to get a 50% improvement in symptoms and ability to live the life they want, many would be happy with that outcome. In the research, we see as little as a 2-3 point change being considered significant when using the (pain scale). A 50% improvement is considered significant.

“471 patients with LBP met the criteria for inclusion. (18-60y, at least 3 visits of PT, duration of PT at least 10 days, initial OSW >10%, and no surgery recorded)”

This simply shows that there were a large number of patients that could be studied.

The inclusion criteria is important because it’s hard to take a study and apply it to a patient that doesn’t fit the inclusion criteria. For instance, this study included people from age 18-60. The results of the study may not apply to those under the age of 18 or over the age of 60.

Also, the study may not be applicable to those that experienced a back surgery.

“132 patients (28.0%) received adherent care and 339 (72.0%) received non-adherent care.”

Less than 1/3 received care that was consistent adherent to an active plan of care. This is disturbing!

This means that many patients going to therapy are having treatment DONE TO THEM instead of DONE WITH THEM!

There are many treatments that can be billed without the therapist directly treating the patient one-one. For instance, mechanical traction can be performed while the therapist is treating another patient. Other treatments that can be performed while the PT is treating another patient is “electrical stimulation”, moist heat and cold packs.

“Patient receiving adherent care experience greater improvement in disability, and pain intensity, and were more likely to experience a successful physical therapy outcome than patient receiving nonadherent care.”

This literally means that when patients are doing more for themselves, they get more from PT. It doesn’t have to be hard.

The PT should act as the guide in order to introduce the patient into a more pain-free, more functional and self-sustaining state. If the PT is acting as the “hero” of your story and not the “guide” in your story, it may be time to find another PT.

“Patient receiving adherent care also attended fewer physical therapy visits, had a shorter length of stay, and lower charges for physical therapy care.”

Fewer therapy visits = less money!

Is it getting easier to see why some clinics are more than happy to perform traction and electrical stimulation to patients?

💵💸💰

In the end, the patients are rarely at the center of care. Physical therapy is also is a business. Businesses function based on profit.

When you find a PT that treats you as a patient and not a $$$, then you have found the right person.

“296 patients (62.8%) had billed charges for additional healthcare related to the management of LBP in the 1-year period After completion of the physical therapy episode of care.”

It is common for patients with back pain to go to multiple providers, such as pain management, orthopedic surgeons, chiropractors and other PTs in order to seek treatment throughout the year.

“Receiving adherent care was associated with decreased use of prescription medication…also associated with a decreased likelihood of receiving diagnostic imaging procedures…associated with decrease use of MRI”

This is simply saying that when patients do more activity in physical therapy (PT), that the patient is less likely to seek out imaging.

There could be many reasons for this outside of just being active in therapy. This is purely conjecture, but if the therapist is able to educate the patient on when imaging is needed and the patient buys in, then it may have a rom in future imaging.

If the therapist demonstrates to the patient that they are strong and robust through the exercises or movements performed in therapy, then the patient may believe that the injury is less severe than initially believed.

If the therapist can change the patients belief system in order to understand that what is seen in imaging may not give them the answer they are looking for, the patient may be less likely to get imaging.

The one constant in all of this is the patient-PT relationship. It may be harder to foster that patient in an environment where multiple patients are being seen at the same time compared to when a patient is seen one-one.

These are great questions to ask when calling a PT clinic to inquire about treatment prior to actually signing up

1. How comfortable are your PTs at treating LBP

2. Do I need to use electrical stimulation and how many patients is this used on in your clinic?

3. Will the therapist be treating more than one patient at a time?

You have the right to this information prior to signing up. If you don’t care about this information, then don’t bother. If it is important to you that you have the individual attention you are paying for…ask away.

“Similar to other healthcare providers, it appears that physical therapy care for patients with LBP is characterized by widespread and unwarranted variations in practice”

We see PTs using craniosacral therapy , dry needling, MDT and other methods/interventions to treat back pain. Because of the variability, it is imperative that the PT ask about previous treatments because there is no common standard with physical therapy.

“…it may be surprising that adherence to an active approach has been reported to be low in studies of both primary care physicians and physical therapists”

Nope! ❌🙅‍♂️

When determining what interventions have the least amount of friction in order to get paid, the passive interventions win every time.

It’s unfortunate, but until insurance based physical therapy is linked to total costs for the treatment issued to a patient (such as a large lump sum issued to the clinic at the beginning of the year in order to manage a patients physical therapy needs and complaints), we will continue to see passive treatments as they reimburse with little time spent with patients.

Excerpts from:

Fritz JM, Cleland JA, Speckman M et al. Physical Therapy for Acute Low Back Pain: Associations with Subsequent Healthcare Costs. Spine. 2008;33:1800-1805.



Outpatient Therapy Services Payment System

Physical therapy services are performed by someone licensed in the physical therapy profession. This can either be a licensed physical therapist (either a Bachelor, Master, or Doctor of Physical Therapy) or a licensed Physical Therapist Assistant (Associate degree).

Aspects of our profession that are performed in the clinic are as follows:

therapeutic exercise: exercises performed in order to help a patient improve function, strength, endurance, range of motion and/or reduce pain

Neuromuscular re-education: training movement patterns, balance, coordination, kinesthetic sense (where the body is at in space during movement), posture, and proprioception (where the body is at during one moment in time)

Manual therapy: using ones hands or tools to perform massage, joint mobilization (moving individual or groups of joints), traction, passive ROM (using hands to move a joint through its range) in order to improve pain, range of motion, swelling or other restrictions

These are the most common interventions used in my clinic. Other interventions used are modalities (which may or may not have evidence to support the intervention and may or may not be covered by an insurance plan). Some are as follows:

Ultrasound

Electrical stimulation

Heat/cold

Mechanical Traction

Iontophoresis

Laser therapy/light therapy

This is still a grey area for many Physical Therapists (PTs). Although the rules are very straightforward, some clinicians never read the rules that insurance companies impose to the clinicians. When a clinician is treating a patient and is in-network with the insurance company, the PT is accepting the rules imposed by insurance companies. Medicare will pay for medically necessary services.

It is up to the PT to establish this necessity in the documentation. The PT the. Needs to have a physician or other allowable non-physician provider (think nurse practitioner) sign off on the initial documentation, which establishes the PTs plan of action/treatment/care. This plan of action must establish a few details and is valid for up to 90 days.

Let’s talk numbers. Our spending on outpatient therapy services (occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy) is more than many countries spend to run the entire country. This is a very large number and insurance companies, both public and private, are trying to cut down on the total expenditures over time.

It makes sense, because expenses have increased by 6% year to year for the previous years.

It may come as a shock to many patients, but “outpatient” benefits can be used in an inpatient setting 🤫.

If you were in a nursing home, they may have used your outpatient benefits to pay for part of your rehab. This may not be the best use of your funds as seen Here and Here.

Surprisingly hospital outpatients use fewer funds than I suspected. It has been documented that many physicians are pressured to keep a patient “in-house”. This means that physicians are not “supposed to” refer a patient out of the hospital network. This keeps all of the money within the hospital to find profits. This was highlighted in a previous news Article

In a way, I’m not surprised that private practices see such a large amount of the Medicare pie, as it’s been noted how many are abusing the system for large payouts. Such as this company that settled for $7M for performing abusive practices. These practices are very common to see in the field of PT.

Patients with Medicare are only to be billed for non-group services (which by the way pay at a much lower rate), when they are actually seen one-one.

Also, patients are only to be seen by licensed professionals. This means that technicians (techs) or aides are not allowed to guide a patient through their exercise program, at least if the company plans to bill for these services. Don’t believe me…here’s another Example.

So I guess that I am not surprised by how much money is spent in outpatient settings.

Many patients don’t understand that sessions are typically billed by the “15 minute rule”. This essentially means that for every 15 minutes, or at times the better half of 15 minutes (8 minutes), that the patient will see a charge on their explanation of benefits or receipt for services.

For example, a patient may see 3 separate charges for a session if the patient was seen in the clinic for 45 minutes. It can get messy if this is not explained to the patient.

The amount of money that Medicare reimbursed is different for different areas of the country. This is based on how much the cost of performing business is within a certain locale.

Those that have Medicare have to pay 20% of accepted/fee schedule amount.

This is where things can get confusing. For instance, I’ve seen an average visit (1 hr) be charged from $360-$1200 to the insurance company. This is a huge range in charges, which is also a problem with our healthcare system because it makes it difficult for patients to understand the actual charge.

Out of the charge for an hour, Medicare will allow close to $100 depending on how that hour was broken up into charges. The other $260-1100 is written off as an “adjusted” amount based off of insurance “savings”. (This savings number is also arbitrary to make it look like you get a great deal from having insurance).

Of the $100 that is allowable, the patient is responsible for 20% of that charge. The patient can choose to have another entity, a Medicare supplement or secondary, pay the other 20%. Of course the patient has to pay a monthly premium, unless on state aid, for that other 20%.

This is a way for business to start gaming the system. They will start to shorten session lengths so that they don’t lose as much money per session. There are three separate components that go into what is allowable by Medicare. They cut one of the three components by 50%.

Companies are then shortening sessions to the least allowable to maximize charges, such as shortening sessions to 25 or 40 minutes in order to maximize their reimbursement per session. They will then keep the patient coming in for more sessions per week in order to maximize payment.

Sometimes it’s what’s best for the patient, but many times it’s only what’s best for the company.

Those companies that charge more, or are in the upper tier of chargers in our profession. For instance, in our state their was a company that was audited and asked to pay back over $600K to Medicare due to inappropriate charges.

The article can be found Here

Great teachers build students to be great

Image: Kaufman SF. The Martial artist’s Book of Five Rings: The Definitive Interpretation of Miyamoto Musashi’s Classic Book of Strategy

I have had many students over the course of my career as a PT.

It is not hidden that I practice with a base of MDT (Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy). This is the base from which I begin every new patient evaluation. It allows me to keep information in an order that makes sense to me and keeps me thinking systematically.

When I take students, I don’t dictate how they practice. I want for them to learn about what is their passion within this profession.

Everyone has to follow his/her own dreams and goals.

I frequently get students that ask me how did I get to where I am at in this profession.

I tell them about reading textbooks, thousands of pages, two to three times in order to understand the words. The students go from feeling great about the energy that I bring and the mentoring and teaching that I have done through the clinical to telling me that they don’t think they can do it.

I DON’T CARE!

You do you. Don’t try to do the things I’ve done in my career. Becoming better at anything takes work. I can feed you my information and this can put you a little further in your quest for information, but you will never own the information in the same way that I own the information. It takes time and work to own the topics.

I only hope that the students can take from me an inspiration that this profession has a lot to offer. Each professional could be great at any one niche AND there would still be enough information, topics, niches for everyone to be great at something.

In the end, the responsibility is on the person…the student.

It is not on the teacher, for the teacher has already paved his/her own way.

The student must choose the path and forge forward.

What path have you taken as a student…professional?

Training for game day…everyday

Image: Kaufman SF. The Martial artist’s Book of Five Rings: The Definitive Interpretation of Miyamoto Musashi’s Classic Book of Strategy

There is so much to unpack here.

First, don’t do as I do because you may have different goals than I.

When I worked at Sams Club, I could have two conversations: gym stuff and Sams stuff. I was so single minded. I would go to school in undergrad and read Ironmind, Flex, Powerlifting USA and books by authors such as the great Mel Siff, Mike Menzter, Fred Hatfield and others.

I wanted to make myself better at the things I enjoyed and school was just something I had to do in order to eventually make money.

I became employee of the year at Sams Club in 2003 and quit the same year to go work at a gym making half that money and to start PT school.

Once in PT school, I still devoted my time to learning about lifting. I went deeper into methodologies and theories of exercise.

Once I graduated from PT school, I devoted all of my free time to becoming a better physical therapist. I want to be the best (warrior) at this craft (physical therapy) that I could attain.

This is not necessarily healthy. I want to start by saying this because it’s been told to me my entire career.

I studied research between sets at the gym. I read textbooks multiple times over. I sacrificed personal relationships to become better…I won’t even say good, but better than the day before.

I’m glad I put all of that time in during those first ten years.

This does not conform to the thought of work-life balance. Again, I’ve heard this my entire career.

When looking at balance, it has to be what makes you happy. Not everyone has the same definition of happiness. When I go to work, I’m sure my patients are grateful that I sacrificed a decade of my life to get better at my craft. When I believe in something I give it my attention. In giving it my attention, I give my time. In giving my time, I am giving my life.

I understand that not everyone is devoted to their craft, but I would hope those depending on that craft can see the difference between those who do and those who don’t.

Medicare for all

Are you paying attention?

Medicare for all would not be a great option, since we can barely sustain Medicare for some.

Government has to get more and more creative in order to make the 💰 last longer.

Part of that creativity is to reduce output.

Another part of that will be to increase revenue to this system.

Reducing output is easy. They are simply paying less for services and taking less risk than previous years.

For instance, ACO (hospitals and other entities) are seeing less reimbursement than previous years for the same procedure.

Less income means that the hospitals have to find other ways to generate income or to become “leaner” in their operations. This may mean less one-one time for PTs.

What do you think the solution should be?

See some of the comments to understand why we are running into problems.

Patients with Medicare using PT

“Services were required because the individual needed therapy services”

For a person to need therapy services, they must have a plan of care certified as necessary by a physician or other referring professional.

“A plan for furnishing such services has been established by a physician/NPP or by a therapist providing such services and is Eperiodically reviewed by a physician/NPP”

A PT is allowed to establish a plan of care for patients, but the insurance doesn’t necessarily have to pay for it. In order for Medicare to pay for a plan of care that is established by a physical therapist, a physician or other referring provider must sign off on that plan of care.

“Services are or were furnished while the individual is or was under the care of a physician…In certifying an outpatient plan of care for therapy a physician/NPP is certifying that the above conditions are met. Certification is required for coverage and payment of a therapy claim.”

If a physician/NPP provides a referral at the time of evaluation, this ensures that the patient was under the care of a referral source at the time of the evaluation. This becomes important because there are patients that will wait to start therapy for months or years after a referral was issued. There is not guarantee that the referral source will certify the POC at this later date. If this POC is not certified, then the treatment will not be covered by Medicare.

“Claims submitted for outpatient PT, OT, and SLP services must contain the National Provider (NPI) of the certifying physician identified for a PT, OT, and SLP plan of care”

Although this is a technicality, this may cause a denial of payment if the NPI number, of the referring professional, is not included on claims.

“Although there is no Medicare requirement for an order, when documented in the medical record, an order provided evidence that the patient both needs therapy services and is under the care of a physician. The certification requirements are met when the physician certifies the plan of care”

Again, this needs to be reiterated over and and over, the patient needs to be under the care of a physician when in physical therapy. The referral can serve to show that the patient was under the care of a physician at the time of the initial evaluation. In the end, the only thing that matters is that the physician/NPP signs off on the plan of care established by the PT.

“Payment is dependent on the certification of the plan of care rather than the order, but the use of an order is prudent to determine that a physician is involved in care and available to certify the plan”

Have you had enough of this yet.

Do you think that there is a reason this is spelled out so frequently in the documentation?

Some don’t follow the rules of the game.

“The services must relate relate directly and specifically to a written treatment plan as described…must be established before treatment is begun…written or dictated.”

We all know that a plan is required.

Some don’t know how to write frequency and duration.

Some don’t know how to write interventions, or some perform interventions not written.

They must be written and signed off on in order to perform.

“The signature and professional identity of the person who established the plan, and date it was established must be recorded with the plan”

No brainer…or is it?

Stamped signatures are not signatures according to CMS, and stamps are not approved.

“Outpatient therapy services shall be furnished under a plan established by:

A physician/NPP

The physical therapist who will provide the physical therapy services”

This is critical. A therapist doesn’t need to have a POC signed if the physician/NPP creates the plan and it is abided by the PT verbatim.

Also, the PT doesn’t need to be licensed if practicing under a physician.

“The plan may be entered into the patient’s therapy record either by the person who established the plan or by the provider’s or supplier’s staff when they make a written record of that person’s oral orders before treatment is begun.”

This is a formality, but it has to do with dictating a note. Treatment can not be started by anyone other than the PT or immediately supervised by the PT that created the plan, before it is entered into record.

“The evaluation and treatment may occur and are both billable either on the same day or at subsequent visits.”

I tend to do one billable unit on the days of an evaluation. This is based on how much time you spend with the patient covering an intervention, or if an untamed intervention is performed.

“Therapy may be initiated by qualified professionals or qualified personnel based on a dictated plan. Treatment may begin before the plan is committed to writing only if the treatment is performed or supervised by the same clinician who established the plan”

This means that the PT or PTA can start treatment on the initial visit. The PT must be in the office supervising the PTA at this point.

Some people, like Anthony Maritato, use this method to establish a relationship between the treating therapist and the patient.

Others, like Rick Gawenda, find this to be a less efficient use of time.

“It is acceptable to treat under two separate plans of care when different physicians/NPP refer a patient for different conditions. It is also acceptable to combine the plans of care into one plan covering both conditions if one or the other referring physician/NPP is willing to certify the plan for both conditions”

I’ve seen some clinic totally prefer to treat the patient 2x/week for one ailment and 2x/week for another ailment.

Take a guess why…it sure ain’t for the patient’s benefit.

Medicare limits how many units can be charged in a session (essentially how much money can be paid in a session). If there is a way around this, you can bet that money hungry clinics will find this workaround.

“The plan of care shall contain, at minimum, the following information as required by regulation:

Diagnosis

Long term goals

Type amount and frequency of therapy services”

The evaluation doesn’t need much. It would be great if it established medical necessity, but is it required…NOPE!

The diagnosis can either be ICD codes or the written diagnosis since it is not spelled out.

“Long term treatment goals should be developed for the entire episode of care in the current setting”

This is something new to many therapists. Medicare doesn’t specifically require short term goals. If they are not required, do they need to be done? In school it is taught to set short term goals as a step towards the long term goal. In reality, every minute counts. The time spent creating and typing short term goals could be used elsewhere. Creating short term goals is literally robbing Peter to pay Paul, but Paul doesn’t need the money.

“…long term goals may be specific to the part of the episode that is being certified. Goals should be measurable and pertain to identified functional impairments”

Goals should be measurable and timely. They should relate to function. There is a lot of grey area in this portion. Subjective measurements are not the most reliable and maybe shouldn’t be used in goal writing.

I see frequently “to increase hip abduction strength to 4/5”

This goal is measurable, albeit loosely and has no tie to function.

I personally like to use outcome measures and specific functional testing in my goal writing. For instance, the patient will improve the (TUG, Tinetti, Berg, chair rise, single leg stance, lower/upper extremity functional scale, yellow flag risk form) in order to …

“…documentation should state the clinical reasons progress cannot be shown”

This is built into many EMRs now.

Sometimes I will write that the symptoms are not reducible through movement or modulation. Other times, I will write that the patient is not consistent with the HEP. Sometimes, it’s that it is a maintenance case and the patient is unsafe to perform exercises with an untrained professional due to fall risk, BP fluctuations or rapidly changing SpO2.

This is where it really pays off to have read some of the textbooks that were recommended in PT school. I particularly recommend the ACSM handbook.

“The amount of treatment refers to the number of times in a day the type of treatment will be provide…one treatment session a day is assumed”

In an outpatient setting, this is typically one. In an acute or subacute setting it may be BID (twice in a day) or even TID (thrice in a day).

“The frequency refers to the number of times in a week the type of treatment is provided”

I struggle with this one. Many therapists are putting 3 times per week for 4 weeks on all their plans. This isn’t being done because they believe it’s what is best for the patient, but because there is a corporate policy to get as many visits in per week as able.

I get frustrated with this type of plan. If you are a therapist and working in this setting, but only putting this plan down to keep from rocking the boat…you are abusing Medicare and should call CMS to report this activity.

Please and thank you.

“The duration is the number of weeks, or the number of treatment sessions, for THIS plan of care.”

This question is asked frequently. I will typically put down the number of weeks if I know that the surgeon only wants so many weeks of PT per a protocol. If it is not protocol based, the. I will typically put down the total number of visits expected for the episode.

Many of my patients (>80%) require an authorization and are typically given 12 visits to start. In this case, I will make the plan for 12 visits or 90 days, whichever comes sooner. I know that I have to do a progress note and get a recertification and ask for more visits at this time anyways.

“It may be appropriate for therapists to taper the frequency of visits as the patient progresses toward and independent or caregiver assisted self-management program with the intent of improving outcomes and limiting treatment time.”

Again, I frequently get 12 visits to start. I try to make these visits as worthwhile for the patient as possible. For some cases I will see 3 times per week, but for many I will see 1 visit per week or 2 per 10 days. This way we are able to see the patient for the timeline of change that is expected. For instance, strength usually occurs in the first 6 weeks due to neuromuscular changes and hypertrophy happens after this timeframe. If we are seeing the patient for 12 visits in 4 weeks, then we may have exhausted the benefits before noting the change.

To me, that is a waste. Many patients agree with me on this because we make the POC together based on their finances (copays need to be paid each day regardless of how many times you are seen per week), work schedules and need/expectation to change over a given time period.

Again…PTs, if you don’t have this autonomy to create your own Plan of Care, are you truly an autonomous practitioner or are you simply a technician that is doing what a higher figure is telling you to do?

“When tapered frequency is planned, the exact Number of treatments per frequency level is not required to be projected in the plan, because the changes should be made based on assessment of daily progress”

This is one of the aspects that I take advantage of in the plan. At this point, I will write 12 visits over 12 weeks or 12 visits over 6 weeks. This way I may start at 3 visits and taper down to one visit per week.

“The clinician should consider any comorbidities, tissue healing, the ability of the patient and/or caregiver to do more independent self-management as treatment progresses, and any other factors related to frequency and duration of treatment”

I had a patient that hadn’t walked in years. The person had fluctuating blood pressures with activity and at times therapy was halted due to elevated BP. This patient was not safe to perform gait training independently due to fall risk and intermittent cardiac crises. This patient was treated 1-2 times per week with gait training and performed a Nu Step at home. The interventions that were skilled were performed in the clinic and the unskilled interventions were issued for HEP.

“…optional elements: short term goals, goals and duration for the current episode of care, specific treatment interventions, procedures, modalities or techniques and the amount of each.”

As much as this says “optional”, I’m not sure it is fully optional. For instance, this report notes that a therapist did not have the type of intervention in his POC as one of many reasons for repayment.

“Changes to procedures and modalities do not require physician signature when they represent adjustments to the plan that result from a normal progression in the patient’s disease or condition or adjustments to the plan due to the lack of expected response unchanged. Only when the patient’s condition changes significantly, making revision of term goals necessary, is a physician/NPP’s signature required on the change.”

For me personally, when there is a major change in status that requires a change in goals and expectations, I phone the physician and alert the medical team to the change in status. I feel that it is important to relay this information to the physician personally, in addition to writing a progress note or re-evaluation.

“Certification requires a dated signature on the plan of care or some other document that indicates approval of the plan of care… The date of the certification is signed is important to determine if it is timely or delayed”

This small detail is important. Although the physician may sign it, it also must be dated. I’ve had to send many evaluations back for a date.

“The physician/NPP’s certification of the plan satisfies all of the certification requirements noted above in (section) 220.1 for the duration of the plan of care, or 90 calendar days from the date of the initial evaluation, whichever is less.”

This is where things get confusing. If you set your plan for 90 days, then everything is good and no confusion.

If you set your plan for 6 weeks, then you would need to get another certification past 6 weeks.

I’ve seen some therapists just write the plan for 90 days on each evaluation in order to check the 90 day box. Don’t be that person. Put thought into your plan and don’t just set up your plan for 90 days because it’s the maximal allowable in one episode.

My duration varies from 4 weeks for acute back pain, 6 weeks for vestibular dizziness up to 12 weeks for neurological disorders. The only downside of doing this is that there is paperwork more frequently. The upside is that it forces a reassessment, which indicates whether or not a patient is responding to care.

“…the physician/NPP shall certify the initial plan as soon as it is obtained, or within 30 days of the initial therapy treatment.”

At my clinic, we have a spreadsheet that has the evaluation name, date and signature (yes/no). Once the signature is obtained, the name is removed from the spreadsheet.

Also, when discharging a chart we have a checklist of items that are expected to be in the chart. The signed evaluation is one of these items on the checklist.

“Evidence of diligence in providing the plan to the physician may be considered by the Medicare contractor during review in the event of a delayed certification”

Again, this is more of a standard operating procedure. When a note is faxed to a physician, the fax cover letter becomes a part of the record. This is done to demonstrate that due diligence was performed in attempting to get a note signed.

“Payment and coverage conditions require that the plan must be reviewed, as often as necessary but at least whenever it is certified or re-certified to complete the certification requirements. It is not required that the same physician/NPP who participated initially in recommending and planning the patient care certify and/or re-certify the plans”

This is also an opportunity for PTs. If a patient has a better relationship with the PCP compared to the orthopedic surgeon, it may be prudent to have the patient get the PCP to sign off on the recertification.

“If the physician wishes to restrict the patient’s treatment beyond a certain date when a visit is required, the physician should certify a plan only until the date of the visit.”

The evaluation template that we use from Theraoffice provides an area for the physician to change the plan if deemed appropriate.

“Certifications and recertification’s by Doctors of podiatric medicine must be consistent with the scope of the professional services provided by a doctor of podiatric medicine as authorized by applicable state law… Chiropractors may not certify or recertify plans of care for therapy services.”

This is huge. For instance, a podiatrist physician is only allowed to write a referral for their scope of practice. Seeing a patient from a podiatrist for an ailment that is outside of the scope of practice may result in a sticky situation, like Seinfeld encountered.

Also, Chiropractic physicians are not allowed to certify plans of care for PT. This applies to Medicare. You must be aware of the patient’s insurance in order to determine if other insurances have the same regulations.

“… The provider is precluded from charging the beneficiary for services denied as a result of missing certification”

This means that the provider or company that the provider work for will hound the physician’s office to get the evaluation or progress report signed. Otherwise, the amount paid was not approved to be performed.

The clinics are not allowed to charge the patient due to a lack of certification.

This is not meant to be legal advice, as this is my take on the Important passages from This manual regarding our profession.

If in need of more information on Medicare compliance, check out Nancy Beckley or Rick Gawenda

Life purpose and changes

“If you want to change the world, you have to enroll others in your plans and vision.”

Adam Robinson

About 2 years ago I started a blog. It was just for fun and the premise behind the blog is this “the only knowledge wasted is the knowledge not shared”. I saw this quote on a t-shirt; a blog was born.

My goal is to provide high quality content to readers through this blog in order to assist them with making decisions regarding choosing a health care practitioner. The secondary goal is to educate physical therapists at least up to the point of at patients. It sounds cynical that I believe that some patients have more knowledge than the PT, but I also believe that the patient has more to lose and more at stake than the PT.

The PT only has a paycheck at stake, maybe a reputation. The patient has life limitations and issues that may prevent them from truly experiencing life. That way more at stake than the PT has on the line. In this fashion, I have seen patients becoming smarter over the years through forums, FB groups, reading blogs and watching videos.

The reason why I say high quality content is because there are a lot of lies and misinformation on the World Wide Web (internet). Healthcare professionals prey on the weak and ignorant to take their money using scare tactics and unrealistic hype.

I ain’t got nothing to sell you other than making you a better human through work. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

I have increasing demands on my time with a family, managing multiple clinics, treating patients and community involvement.

My posts will become fewer and fewer as I try to fit them into my life instead of fitting my life around my work.

Love your life or change it

Dr. Vince Gutierrez, PT

Second opinion

How many people will choose to get a second opinion before going in for a major surgery?

I would hope 💯%!

I had an awesome conversation about 10 years ago when I was visiting Canada. There was a guy that traveled to Canada in order to get an opinion regarding back surgery. He was from San Diego. That’s a pretty far trip to see if he needs back surgery.

I asked him why travel that far for an opinion and he said that he wanted to reduce any bias on the doctor’s part regarding whether he was a candidate. For instance, the doctor in Canada would not be performing the surgery and it was unlikely that the doctor giving the opinion would be able to benefit from recommending surgery, since the patient would have surgery in California.

He avoided going for the opinion in California because the hospital system would profit from the surgery. The surgeon may have an arrangement with the hospital to ensure that the hospital gets a percentage of the money. We know that the hospital will make money during a surgery. Many people stand to profit from a surgery and the patient would do well to get an opinion from someone that doesn’t stand to benefit.

This brings me to my rant for now. 👇

Why don’t patients get a second opinion regarding physical therapy?

1. It’s not a huge expense

Physical therapy, on average will cost the insurance company about $1200 per episode of care. If the patient is paying 20% for the coinsurance, then it will only cost the patient $240/episode. This works out to about $50/week.

That’s relatively inexpensive compared to a large surgery. The question is: why not spend an extra $25 to see if a second therapist agrees with the first? If there is a disagreement in how treatment should be performed, then the cost may not be the chief factor.

This leads us to 👇

2. All therapists do the same thing

Not all PTs are trained the same! Don’t let a non-PT (such as surgeon or family doctor) tell you that it’s all alike.

Not all surgeons have the same reputation and skills. Not all PTs have the same reputation and skills. The only way that you, as a patient, will know about other’s skills and reputation is to ask and try.

If you are absolutely in love with your PT or MD, then so be it. Sing from the rooftops so that the reputation gets built. If you’re not…try someone different.

Sometimes the grass IS greener.

3. Convenience

I get it. A drive around the corner is much easier than a drive for an hour. It makes sense.

If we believe that not all therapists have the same training or passion for treating a specific issue, then we must also believe that these therapists are worth the drive.

Follow this example:

1. Patient A decided to go to a therapist close to home or work (we know that regarding gyms most people won’t drive more than 15 minutes from work/home). The therapy session costs the patient $240 out of pocket and the insurance pays $1000.

Let’s also say that the patient is being seen for low back pain or sciatica, since this is the number one reason to seek PT. The patient is seen in a clinic in which the therapist is there to punch a clock and see as many patients as possible because that’s how 💰 is made.

The patient doesn’t get much better and then returns to the doctor for a series of shots (more money and time). The shots are a 50/50 chance of working.

Half of the patients will then still have pain and now be shuffled to the next step, either pain management or surgical consult.

2. Patient B spent a little time to search for the therapist in a 20 mile area that best treats low back pain or sciatica. The patient makes an extra 20 minute drive. The therapist decides that the patient would ben for from 8 visits of PT over 6 weeks and the patient gets better because the therapist enjoys the job and works well with patients having this diagnosis.

The patient made a little more of an effort up front, but saved 💵 and ⏳ by choosing the right therapist instead of moving further along in the medical system.

Want a second opinion, send me a message.