Work/time = something

“ I mean that you focus in on the dream you have, you do the work, you put in the hours, and you stop feeling guilty about it!“

I quit the hospital the second time to move to Virginia. It was a great time! It lasted a whole weekend (seriously my address was Fairfax, Virginia for a whole two days). I quit the hospital on a Thursday. I was back on a train to Chicago and then the Rock Island to Mokena by Sunday.

Needless to say, I called FW at Palos Hospital and was back to work at the hospital the next week. Although it seemed like a short vacation that I was away from the hospital, because I put in my notice, I lost all of my seniority, which included vacation time. Not a huge deal though because they hired me at the hourly rate i was receiving when I quit. I got a 90 day raise after my probationary period ended.

Another small detail is that I returned home having filed for divorce.

This whole story was to tell one small detail. I actually obtained a job in Virginia, one in which I never started but did the interviews. Virginia was, at the time, a direct access state for anyone that had a DPT. Without a DPT (doctorate degree in physical therapy) a PT could not see a patient “off the street” unless he/she took a differential diagnosis course.

I realized that the DPT has a little value. At that point I decided that I was going to obtain a DPT degree. (In hindsight, I could’ve just as easily taken the differential diagnosis course, but having moved back to IL without any furniture or television set, I had nothing better to do with my time. Literally, I thought to myself…I got some time to kill and the hospital agreed to pay $3,000 per year…I might as go get a Doctorate degree). The coursework for the DPT was relatively easy, but time consuming. I am proud that I did this and obtained the DPT. Not because of the title, but because now I can argue both ends of the argument regarding the DPTs worth; it only cost me $5K over three years.

In the end, I keep it simple.

“Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming”

Ankle strength

Some people have lost strength in the ankle due to a litany of issues such as:

Nerve damage

Muscle strain

Shin splints

Ankle fracture

Etc

Getting a stronger ankle joint doesn’t have to be complicated.

Some people have the ability to get stronger, but others may not have that ability.

Check with a licensed professional to see if the nerves are working properly before starting a structured exercise program for the ankle.

This is a basic exercise and is intended for general education.

Cervical myelopathy: how to test clinically

“… The onset is often insidious with long periods of episodic, stepwise progression, and may present with a vast array of clinical findings from patient to patient.”

Cervical myelopathy is like neck pain to the extreme. It isn’t just a neck issue, but it ends up encompassing anything below the neck. It can cause arm symptoms, leg symptoms, difficulty walking, weakness throughout the body, spastic robot-like walking, and breathing issues.

This is a neck problem that needs to be addressed ASAP!

Let’s take a look at some of the research on this problem, what your therapist should check, and when it’s time for the patient to be sent back to a physician for imaging to determine if the patient is a candidate for surgery…it is that important.

Some quick stories (or not so quick).

I’ve had two patients with cervical myelopathy. One patient had symptoms of this, but also had arm problems from a previous injury. Because of this, the CSM (cervical spine myelopathy) was delayed in diagnosis until the patient demonstrated abnormal gait…10 months later!

The second case was picked up in the clinic immediately on the first day. I performed this cluster, to be learned later, on the patient and he was very positive. We had a conversation about the need for imaging and a consult with a neurosurgeon. The patient essentially said…thanks but no thanks.

Unfortunately this patient lost use of his hands and developed a walking pattern that was very abnormal before he decided that surgery was the right choice.

Here’s a quick Video describing CSM.

“May involve lower extremities first, weakness of the legs, and spasticity”

Spasticity is an issue that could be seen in walking for some people, but is testing using movements under speed like in this Video

What we will see is that the body reflexively slows down or stops the movement from happening rapidly.

“lower motor neuron findings in the upper extremities such as loss of strength, atrophy, and difficulty in fine finger movements, may present”

This means that we may see generalized weakness, loss of muscle mass (smaller muscles) and difficulty with picking up pennies and buttoning buttons.

“neck stiffness, shoulder pain, paresthesias in one or both arms or hands, or radiculopathic signs”

Neck stiffness is self explanatory. The neck movement may not be fluid or it may be restricted due to pain. There may be symptoms such as pain, tingling or numbness radiating into the shoulder(s) regions, arm(s) region or down to the hand(s) region. We may also see changes in sensation or reflexes.

“An MRI is most useful because the tool expresses the amount of compression placed on the spinal cord, and demonstrates relatively high levels of sensitivity and specificity.”

There is little reason for a PT to recommend an MRI, unless there are specific conditions found during the evaluation. The type of presentation notes above is one reason for a PT to recommend an MRI to the referring physician or the patient’s primary care physician.

X-rays do not do a good job of demonstrating any soft tissue (muscle/spinal cord/disc/ligaments/tendons) abnormalities.

Mind you, this presentation is not common and for the most part, an early MRI is not indicated for neck or back pain.

“The tests, when used alone, are not overtly diagnostic and may lead to a number of false negatives and in rare occasions, false positives”

It is recommended that, when CSM is suspected, the physical therapist use the cluster (groups) of testing in order to strengthen the likelihood of this suspicion. One test used alone is not enough to consider other testing.

“in reality, the diagnosis of CSM involves MRI findings and clinical findings, with equal weighting of both results”

Because the clinical exam is so important for this diagnosis and subsequent imaging, it is important that the PT and physician be familiar with the testing described.

“Of the 10 variables included in the regression modeling, the tests of Babinski and Hoffman’s signs, the Inverted Supinator sign, gait Abnormality, and age > 45 years were retained.”

I’ll be honest. In my first 10 years, I never tested for the inverted supinate sign or Hoffman’s sign until I read this paper. This is a testimony to continuing one’s education beyond taking courses. I don’t recall (those that know me know that I have a pretty good memory) ever learning this cluster through any of the coursework that I took since 2007.

After reading this article, I practiced these tests on a bunch of healthy individuals, those with neck pain in which I didn’t suspect a spinal cord issue, so that I could get better st the test and understand the normal response. This way, I learned the test mechanics and felt confident performing the test on anyone. It enabled me to understand the difference between the “healthy” patients on which I tested this specific cluster and the few in which had a positive test.

Rant: I hear it from so many students and new grads that they feel like they haven’t learned how to perform the tests or what to see as a result of the test because they only get to test healthy individuals. Having gone through the mechanics of this cluster for years, I hope that students understand that they must become confident at performing the mechanics of the test (kinesthetic learning) and know how a healthy response looks. One may go his/her entire career without ever seeing this presentation, but that doesn’t mean that one can’t perform the test and understand a normal result. I bring this up because I hear the same type of arguments regarding vestibular testing and ocular testing.

Every patient that has a history of stroke gets a vestibular-ocular exam because there may be lingering positive testing after the neurological event. This again strengthens my ability to perform the test and increases my likelihood that I will see positive testing…so I know what it looks like for future patient evaluations that may come in off of the street through direct access.

“A finding that included three of five positive tests yielded a positive likelihood ratio of 30.9 and a post test probability of 94%”

Even if you’re not a statistician, this is important information.

A positive likelihood ratio greater than 10 is an indication that your testing is giving a result that increases the chances of that being the diagnosis.

A post-test probability of 94% indicates that there is less than a 10% chance that the diagnosis or classification is incorrect after testing.

This is a much better percentage than we have of most orthopedic issues.

“”this study found that selected combinations of clinical findings that consisted of (1) gait deviation; (2) + Hoffman’s sign; (3) inverted supinator sign; (4) + Babinski test and (5) age > 45 years were affective in ruling out and ruling in cervical spine myelopathy.”

If you are a student and plan on treating patients…you must know these tests.

If you are a therapist treating these patients…you must know, be confident administering and understand the repercussions of a positive test.

If you are a patient…know that not all therapists have the same training and some may not even know these tests exist. I hope this makes you take a more thoughtful approach in choosing your next PT.

Article

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.

Functional movement screening: the use

“The rehabilitation professional must realize that in order to prepare individuals for a wide variety of activities, screening of fundamental movements is imperative.”

I agree with this statement. I disagree that we yet have a tool that can screen all individuals from all sports. This screening tool has yet to prove its worthiness of use on athletes.

I recently was certified by USAW as a weightlifting coach. I really like what they use to screen participants before allowing them to train the weightlifting lifts of the clean and jerk and snatch. They use the basic movement patterns, without load or speed, that are needed in order to perform the entire lift safely.

This makes logical sense, but I don’t think a study has been performed to see if this is a good/bad thing to do prior to allow safe lifting.

The FMS is proposed to be a screening tool for athletes and tactical workers. I’m not sure this one tool can encompass all of the movements required in life.

It’s still a good thing to learn about, not for use as a screen, but instead to better understand how the body as a system can move through the spectrum of very stiff and weak through very mobile and supportive.

“Many individuals train around a pre-existing problem or simply do not train their weaknesses during strength and conditioning (fitness) programs.”

If a person is unaware of a problem, this is also a problem. I would be all for a low cost screening tool, which everyone is required to have tested on a yearly/decade basis.

For instance, someone that lacks ankle mobility may not know that they are unable to squat without something under their heels. They may not know that this leads to increased use of the anterior chain, which increases knee stresses. They may not utilize their hips and may round their back when performing their repetitive squatting activities.

There are so many possibilities for a person to lose mobility, that this should be screened. The problem is that we have yet to know an effective screening tool.

“The perception of many past researchers is that no set standards exist for determining who is physically prepared to participate in activities”

If there are no standards, then everyone can participate in a physical training program. This is only partially true. There are some standards, but not many.

1. The person must be breathing

2. The person must not be at a major risk of death if participating in an exercise program

3. Start exercising!

“…the main goals in performing pre-participation, performance, or return to sport screening are to decrease the potential for injury, prevent re-injury, enhance performance, and ultimately improve quality of life”

This is what makes a universal screening tool so hard to find. I don’t even think we have a tool for different positions of the SAME sport because the requirements are so diverse. I keep bringing up the USAW screening tool, but that’s because the athlete, in the end only needs to be safe enough to perform TWO movements. The screening tool has more movements than needs to be performed. If this were to hold true for any other sport, the screening tool would be too long to be useful.

“…intended purpose of movement screening (1) identify individuals at risk, who are attempting to maintain or increase activity level (2) assisting in program design by systematically using corrective exercise to normalize or improve fundamental movement patterns (3) providing a systematic tool to monitor progress and movement pattern development…(4) creating a functional movement baseline”

I can agree with all of the above stated. Im not sure if research supports these statements, but they sound pretty good.

I do like the idea of creating a movement baseline, but that baseline measurement will need to be extensive enough to capture relevant information to that patient.

“The FMS (TM) is comprised of seven fundamental movement patterns (tests) that require a balance of mobility and stability (including neuromuscular/motor control)”

This is true. The seven movement patterns tested are adequate tests for ADL’s but I don’t know if it goes far enough to test anything other than a persons baseline movement.

“The term ‘regional interdependence’ is used to describe the relationship between regions of the body and how dysfunction in one region may contribute to dysfunction in another region”

I speak with many PTs throughout the week that know this term and can recall this term, but don’t apply this term on a daily basis when working with people. For example, a significant loss of dorsiflexion (ankle flexibility) will keep the knee from bending and shifting towards your toes. This will in turn cause you to learn more forward with your hips.

A loss of movement at your shoulder can make you move your back more when reaching overhead.

This is the term regional interdependence at play.

“Programmed altered movement patterns have the potential to lead to further mobility and stability imbalances, which have previously been identified as risk factors for injury”

This is where I start to deviate a little from the article. There are way too many logical jumps being made without proof that a screening tool is predictive of injury.

“…an important factor in prevention of injuries and improving performance is to quickly identify deficits in symmetry, mobility, and stability because of their influences on creating altered motor programs throughout the kinetic chain”

I don’t agree with this.

Everything here forward is my opinion and I don’t have any proof that it’s true: we live in an asymmetrical world. We start off as one handed or one footed. We play sports that drive this asymmetry. It’s hard to say that moving towards a more symmetrical society will improve performance in asymmetrical sports or activities.

I personally don’t think it happens.

There are many saying that at a young age that kids shouldn’t specialize, and I would agree with that, but at what age does specialization become more appropriate. I remember hearing stories about Ken Griffey Jr (one of the greatest baseball players of all time with baseball being a very asymmetrical sport) playing basketball in order to improve mobility and hand eye coordination.

It’s a theory that working towards symmetry improves performance, in just not at that point yet.

“Scores serve to tell the professional when a person needs more investigation or assessment”

The score on the movement screen does not predict injury. It just states that the person doesn’t move like the ideal.

For instance, my shoulder mobility for the internal/external rotation test is not ideal. That’s expected for me because I have shorter arms and am overweight. The investigation of this test is that I have to lose weight in order to see if that has an effect on my testing. The same “problem” of being overweight can affect the rotary test in quadruped as the belly can get in the way of the test. “Problem” solved. It may not be a muscle/joint problem at all.

Read the article to see the testing and what the authors propose that the test is measuring.

Link to article

PT and tendons: where are we at?

“Complicating matters further is the mismatch between reported pain (and disability) and imaging (and pathology), as well as evidence of widespread sensory nervous system sensitization in some tendonopathies.”

A little background. Pain is not always viewable. This is a large debate even among the highest level of pain organizations. The IASP (Thanks to Colin Windhu for catching a mistake) is looking to change the definition of pain to include tissue based problems, or at least perceived problems.

Not all pain has a tissue based component, as some have a cognitive and emotional based component. For instance, I treated a person that was so afraid of performing activities that this person developed a pain from the thought of movement. After establishing that movement was safe, this person more than 10X increased the ability on a functional test…in less than 6 weeks.

This person, and others that I’ve worked with, have a “stinking thinking” type of pain. This may not be the fault of the patient, but instead it may be the fault of the faulty medical system. One that drives fear.

How many people have heard a physician say

“This is the worst spine I have seen”

“You shouldn’t squat/run because it’s bad for your knees”

“You shouldn’t work with heavy weights because it’s bad for your back”

“Your knees/hips are bone on bone and you will need a new knee/hip in the future”

Your pain is because you have a rotator cuff tear/disc herniation/arthritis etc”

These types of interactions do more to hurt the patient than help the patient and can start the cycle of inactivity out of fear of breaking oneself.

Don’t buy into the hype. A little stat, when a physician diagnoses your back pain as a herniated disc, arthritis, muscle strain, stenosis, etc do you know that the diagnosis is only right about 10% of the time?!

People are hanging their health habits in a guess that has a worse chance of being right than flipping a coin. You would have better odds of getting 4 of a kind in Texas Holdem.

Let’s start by not placing too much weight into the diagnosis because it’s a best guess at best.

Here’s what we think may happen. Some pain can cause more pain. Nerves can communicate with each other.

It’s similar to an infection. Any nerve that comes in contact with the nerve that is irritated can then become infected (irritated). Hmm?

I’ve seen many patients that experience widespread pain even though “everything is healthy”.

Yet another reason not to hang your hat on one specific tissue problem.

“… A diagnosis of tendinopathy is reasonably easy to make clinically, on the basis localized pain over the tendon that is associated with loading of the tendon.”

If you hurt your biceps and you ask your biceps to work, it makes sense that it may not like that.

If you hurt/injured your biceps and it hurts when you make your ankle muscles work, we wouldn’t expect that to create a problem in the biceps if the problem is localized to the biceps.

Make sense?

In other words, when a tendon is injured, we expect specific behaviors like

1. Pain with contraction under load that may increase with increasing loads

2. Pain with compression of that area

3. Pain with stretching that specific area

4. No issues when that area is not moving.

If the symptoms operate outside of this narrow set of parameters, it may not be only a tendon issue. This is not to say there isn’t a tendon issue, but instead is meant to say that the tendon may only be a part of the problem and we have no idea how much of a part it is until more assessment is done.

“…management of tendinopathy should optimally involve addressing loading of the tendon”

A tendon connects a muscle to a bone. It doesn’t have a ton of blood flow and can be slow to heal.

It needs to work in order to get back to its normal function.

This is what it means to load the tendon. Make it work, but don’t irritate/create harm. As long as the tendon/pain is not worse following an activity…awesomesauce…no harm done.

“Management of load…usually commenced with complete removal of offending activities and the introduction of appropriate and graduated loading activities”

If you break your leg, you will expect to be on crutches. This is to allow the bone time to heal. This stage lasts anywhere from 4-6 weeks. Loading before then one is ready to accept load can result in worsening the injury. You would know this because the pain worsened or you would break it further.

Loading a tendon before it is ready to be loaded OR more than it is ready to accept will lead to increased pain in that area, pain that is lasting and worsening function over time.

These are the clues a patient needs to give their attention towards.

Sometimes you need to remove all load from a tendon to allow it to rest and others you can perform your normals daily activities, but any more would result in increased pain that lingers.

When the pain no longer lingers after an activity, it is time to do more activities and create a new norm.

It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than this. Some research shows that 1200 repetitions of calf raises should be performed weekly, but it doesn’t have to be this structured.

“…requires patient buy-in…involves the clinician educating the patient about the nature of the tendinopathy, its relationship to loading, and a likely recovery trajectory.”

This is by far and away the most important detail.

If the patient is not educated on how the body should respond AFTER performing the activity, then the patient may be reluctant to continue anything that creates transient (short-lived) pain.

This is one of those issues that only gets better with direct loading. It doesn’t “fix” with time because it needs to be strong enough to handle the loads that you would throw at it on a daily basis.

“This exercise program should be adequately supervised, reviewed, and progressed to ensure adherence and resolution of the tendinopathy.”

SOAPBOX: ADEQUATELY SUPERVISED DOES NOT MEAN THREE TIMES PER WEEK FOR SIX TO EIGHT WEEKS. THE PATIENT SHOULD BE PERFORMING THE HOME PROGRAM AND THE THERAPIST IS IDEALLY ONLY A PHONE CALL AWAY. THE PATIENT SHOULD RETURN IF SOMETHING U EXPECTED HAS OCCURRED OR THE PATIENT NO LONGER IS ABLE TO REPRODUCE THE SYMPTOMS WITH THE LOAD THEY ARE USING AT HOME.

“(a) symptom-guides management, (b) symptom-modification management (c) compressive versus tensile load (d) stages of loading through the rehabilitation process (isometric and isotonic strengthening, energy storage and release, return to play), and (e) what I will refer to as movement competency…in a way that does not provoke pain.”

This doesn’t need to be summarized and is great advice for most soft tissue disorders.

“In the lower limb (Achilles tendon, patellar tendon), it appears that pain up to 5/10 on a numeric pain rating scale during and after training is not harmful and may be desirable”

This is a little more aggressive than I go initially, but the patient’s response gets to dictate how hard we push.

If there is a 3 point change and the patient is no worse after repeatedly creating a 3-point change, the. They have earned the right to go to a 4-point change. At some point, we would predict that too much of an increase would lead to an inflammatory effect, but we just don’t know what that number is for that specific patient.

The only way we will ever know is to test it.

“The fad of giving all patients with tendinopathy an eccentric exercise program from the onset has largely abated; however, after adequate strength of the muscle has been achieved, it is necessary to use eccentric exercises to reinstitute the energy storage/return capacity of the musculotendinous complex”

Not sure if this is any different than just load the tissue. The tissue needs to be able to contract under load and stretch under load. That’s normal mechanics for a muscle.

“Movement competency…is mainly about the form and shape (posture and alignment) with which physical activity is performed.”

This is consistent with what Dr. Kelly Starrett has been preaching for years through his books, videos and interviews.

A squat should look like a certain shape and many things look similar, such as a lunge (squat with one leg), clean start position, deadlift start position, standing up from the toilet etc.

Of course I know there are nuances between the squat and deadlift regarding hip height and back angle, the clean and lunge regarding shin angle etc, but in the end the basic shape still applies (knee bent and hip bent with shoulders forward and back fairly flat with head looking straight ahead). The similarities are where most people need to function and the nuances are what make the exceptional athletes different.

Link to article

The influence of patient choice

“Approximately $85 billion are spent annually on spine-oriented conditions, and an additional $10 to $20 billion are attributed to economic losses in productivity…Per-patient costs have increased by 49% from 1997 to 2006.”

Spine related issues cost our country about $1 Trillion over the course of a decade. Seeing as how we are dealing with a pandemic, people now have a better understanding what $1T can do for the country.

It can give each person thousands in financial relief. It can give small businesses hundreds of thousands in relief.

The number seems arbitrary until you actually see what a Trillion dollar bailout looks like.

If we can reduce the impact of back pain on society, we could keep this money in the economy because there wouldn’t be lost productivity, out of pocket spending and other expenses that come with back pain.

Healthcare would forever be changed if we can reduce the economic impact of back pain, as it is the most prevalent issue seen in outpatient clinics, many emergency departments and most primary care physician offices.

There would be so much opportunity to actually focus on maintaining a healthy population instead of trying to solve a pain/disability problem.

“despite the rising costs, there has been no real improvement in terms of disability or reduction in the proportions of individuals who report back or neck pain.”

This is a little bit of a controversial fact for me. Our ability to treat back pain through classification has improved over the years. For instance, a recent study on downstream costs shows that when using MDT there is fewer follow-up visits and extensive diagnostics required.

I don’t think that we will ever stop people from experiencing pain, back pain or any other locations. People experience pain. This is a fact. Pain can be a good sign to keep us from doing things that create pain in the first place. The problem, in my opinion, is when we allow pain to prevent us from doing things that are considered a normal part of life.

For example, most experience pain when touching a hot stove. This can be used as a warning signal that hot stoves are dangerous.

Unfortunately, many experience pain when bending forward. The same logic applies and some believe that they are actually creating harm when bending forward, so it’s avoided altogether.

This is where I believe a good PT can be worth his/her weight in gold. Teaching a patient to return back to normal activities that the patient previously believed to be dangerous could increase the patients quality and possibly quantity of life.

I now want to address the rising costs of treating pain. The next unfortunate issue is that I personally know practitioners that are so out of touch with current research that they continue to treat patients as if it is 1980. We wonder why, as a whole, we are no better at treating patients.

Why do you think this happens?

One reason is that healthcare is a business.

There’s a ton of conspiracy theorists out there that believe the government is hiding the cure for cancer so that the businesses that treat cancer can continue to make money. For some reason this same conspiracy hasn’t made its way down to back pain.

I’m not sure if you saw the amount of money spent on back pain, but if not then go back up to the top of the post.

There’s big money in back pain.

Why should providers want to get you better faster?

In all honesty, I think the providers want you to get better faster. The providers don’t typically make much less if you get better faster.

The business on the other hand stands to lose a lot of money if the patient gets better at a faster rate.

I’ll speak specifically to physical therapy and use real numbers.

On average a clinic with 2 PT sees about 10 new patients per week. Let’s just say that 8 of the 10 are for some version of spine pain.

This would mean that on average we are seeing 400 new cases of spine related pain in a two person clinic per year.

On average, the reimbursement per treatment session in IL is $95-$100 per session.

If the business asks (more like demands) that a PT keeps the patient for 13 sessions, where’s the therapist with less supervisory demands sees the patient for 8 visits, there is a major difference in the overall income for the clinic.

Clinic 1:

400 (new patients) x 13 (visits)= 5,200 visits

At $95/visit

5,200(visits) x $95(per visit)= $494K

Clinic 2:

400(new patients) x 8(visits)=3,200 visits

At $95/visit

3,200(visits) x $95(per visit)=$304K

Are you starting to understand the problem?

The clinic that requires PTs to see a patient for a specific number of visits stands to generate an extra $190K. This is an example for a two therapist clinic.

Multiply that by the hundreds of thousands of PTs in the country treating back pain and you see how the costs are artificially inflated.

Until insurance companies cut back on what is reimbursed, we will not see a change in practice. What we are seeing insurance companies do is a step in the right direction, bu I personally believe that they are doing it incorrectly.

Right now the insurance companies are giving us typically 8-12 visits that are to be used over the course of 6-8 weeks.

What I would like to see is an insurance company give us a stipend of a few thousands of dollars to care for that one patient over the course of the year. Meaning any problem that occurs with that particular patient is our responsibility to rehab. We become accountable for that patients health.

We are seeing this with some Medicare Advantage Plans, and it seems to be effective at countering the rising costs of healthcare.

Until a drastic change in how we get reimbursed happens, we will continue to see the numbers rise like they have.

I just don’t think that the changes that have happened, restricting the number of visits, is enough to make companies take responsibility for actually helping patients.

“The estimated proportion of persons with back or neck problems to self-report physical functioning limitations increased from 20.7% to 24.7% from 1997 to 2005, suggesting that current care models may be insufficient.”

I have personally seen patients reporting increased disability with time.

Part of what has to be considered is “how many of these individuals reporting disability also have secondary gain issues?”

Meaning, how many people reporting increased disability are actually receiving disability payments?

Secondary gain issues would have to be considered a limiting factor when reporting these numbers.

The next aspect to be considered is the affective component of the impairment. Meaning, how many people are experiencing increased disability due to the environment they spend their time and the situations they surround themselves.

It’s like the opposite of herd immunity. I’ve been part of many FB groups specifically designed for support, but the groups offer anything but support. These groups offer misrepresentation of diagnoses and prognoses. Many people looking for support and assurance are met with information about lifelong disability, surgical options and nocebo language.

There’s more to disability than pain.

A persons belief about pain has an impact on disability. We know this.

We really need to look at changing the narrative about back pain.

“Clinical practice guidelines for primary care management of spinal conditions generally suggest initial management strategies of self-care and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications. Referral to specialist, including physical therapist or for diagnostic imaging is only encouraged for those who failed to respond after period of watchful waiting.”

This is part of the problem. Instead of stratifying the patient based on risk factors for developing persistent pain, which I’ve written about one tool previously, they are treating all back pains similarly.

Some patients will get better on their own without any treatment.

Others would benefit from early treatment.

The medical system has to do a better job of separating these groups in order to maximize outcomes and reduce disability numbers.

“recommended best practices based on such clinical practice guidelines are to avoid bedrest, to use opioid medications for a limited time, and to obtain magnetic resonance imaging only for specific presentation of radicular symptoms.”

This seems very basic.

Unfortunately, these aren’t necessarily followed. I have many patients, over my career that are opioid dependent. There is research showing that long term opioid usage can actually increase a person’s sensitivity to pain. Think about that, medication that initially makes a person unable to sense pain, over time makes a person feel more pain (either frequency or intensity).

I believe that the idea that imaging should be minimized until needed has be adopted more so than the short term usage of opioids.

I rarely see patients coming into the clinic for an evaluation that received an MRI prior to physical therapy. Part of this has to do with insurance companies not approving MRIs until conservative care has been attempted. This has to be commended.

Now we just need our profession to stop looking at patients like an ATM and start to see each case as one that could go to surgery if we don’t make progress.

We have to see the months that the patient would be unable to work and function. We have to employ empathy.

The state of the profession currently sees patients as widgets to be accounted for in productivity measures.

Again, this needs to change in order for us to have an impact on the disabling mentality that is growing with regards to back pain.

“… alternative care models offering direct access (The ability to seek and receive the examination, valuation, and intervention by physical therapist without requiring physician referral for legal or insurance coverage) to physical therapy have suggested fewer days of care and lower costs.”

Looking purely at costs, direct access has the potential to save insurance companies and patients money. This savings would come at the expense of the physicians, hospital systems and emergency departments.

But how you ask?

As it stands, patients would require a referral in most states to be evaluated and treated in a physical therapy environment for longer than 4 weeks. Because of this, a patient would need to go to a physician in order to receive a referral for physical therapy. Each time the patient sees the physician, the costs is about $80.

If PTs has direct access, which in my mind doesn’t just include the ability to be assessed and treated by a physical therapist, but also consists of having that particular patient’s insurance pay for the assessment and treatment, then we would have fewer trips to the emergency department, quick care or physician.

This would save money immediately for the healthcare system and saves the patient time. Instead of waiting to get into a physician and then waiting to see the PT, the patient could walk into the PT office and be assessed within 24-48 hours.

“The majority of the 447 patients included in the analysis chose traditional medical referral (61.7%).”

This is interesting for me to navigate. The group that chose to go the route of direct access ended up saving about $1,500 in total cost of care. This number is misleading though because it didn’t take into account the amount of money that the patient actually paid out of pocket.

For instance, in a 90%/10% coverage plan, the patient would have only paid an extra $150 out of pocket (assuming the deductible was met). That’s a large difference from the patient paying an extra $750 if the patient has an insurance that pays 50%.

Because this $1,500 can vary patient to patient, I’m not sure if it is a good metric to use because it really tells us how much money we are saving the insurance company, instead of telling us how much money we are saving the patient.

I understand the argument that if we save the insurance company money, then we would save the patient money on a lower premium, but I just don’t believe that we will make enough of a dent in healthcare costs to ever drop premiums. It is a business after all and the scenario I more likely see is the business pocketing a larger profit for the money we save them.

This brings us to the next topic : why would patients choose to go to see a physician first before going to PT as a direct access visit?

I think that this would make a good quantitative study to determine what are the factors that correlate with seeing a physician first for back pain prior to seeing a PT.

The other questions to be asked are what would make one choose a chiropractic physician, naprapathic doctor, accupuncturist, massage therapist or physical therapist for specific ailments?

In the end, we know that we have the potential to save the patient money if the patient chooses a direct access (walk into the clinic off of the street) when compared to seeing a physician prior to receiving a referral for physical therapy. Because a majority of patients in this particular study still chose the physician first, there must be other issues in play as to why patients aren’t choosing direct access OR the patients aren’t aware that we could actually save them money.

Link to article

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

Efficient and Effective Care

“Proliferation of these staffing models (increasing the use of PTA’s and aides) has been driven by managed care organizations, the introduction of prospective payment systems, and low reimbursement rates, as well as workforce shortages in allied health.”

For those that are unfamiliar with physical therapy and what the titles mean lets do a quick refresher:

PTA = licensed physical therapist assistant (high school + 2 years)

PT = licensed physical therapist (Bachelor’s or Bachelor’s + years)

aide = no required degree with on the job training (no degree needed)

MPT = Master of physical therapy degree (Bachelor’s plus 27 months)

DPT = Doctor of physical therapy degree (Bachelor’s plus 33 months)

Based on the above, one can see that the aide would be paid less than the PTA.  The PTA would get paid less than the PT based on education level alone and all other things are equal.

When insurance companies cut pay to professionals, companies have to decrease their costs in order to continue to make margin.  One way to cut costs is to have fewer PT’s and more PTA’s or aides.  The ethics/legalities of the decision are for a different day.

Some insurance companies are refusing to pay for services provided by PTA’s.

The reason that I bothered to look at this research was a large discussion that took place on a professional FB page in which PTA’s were arguing that the care shouldn’t change from PTA to PT, seeing as PTA’s can perform most treatments that a PT can perform.

I decided to look into this to see if there was a difference and I was shocked by what I found, based on my own experience working in a hospital system.  On the same note, I wasn’t shocked based on some of the reports that I hear from patients and others in the profession.

“Use of support personnel in outpatient therapy settings can double the number of patient visits a therapist can manage per day, thus increasing clinical productivity.”

If I am a PT making $50/hour (using round numbers to keep it simple) and in a typical day I could treat 10 patients with an average reimbursement rate of $95 (please go watch all the videos from Dr. Ben Fung ), then I would cost the company $400 dollars, but make the company $950 dollars.  A gross profit, with the removal of only the PT salary, of $550 dollars per day.

Now, if we have that same PT making $50/hour and a PTA making $30/hour (again round numbers to keep it simple), with each therapist seeing 10 patients per day, then the following numbers are the result.  The salaries would cost $640, but the therapists would generate $1900/day.  A gross profit, with salaries of the therapists removed, of $1260/day.

As you can see, the company would be able to generate more money by hiring PTA’s instead of a second PT.  The question then becomes is it cost effective to have the PTA compared to the second PT.  The answer at a glance is “of course”!, but looking a little deeper may force a company to weigh values (i.e. profit or outcomes) before making that second hire.

“While some advocate use of support personnel to increase productivity without loss of quality, others warn that an over reliance on support personnel can negatively affect outcomes and compromise quality.”

This is essentially the discussion that occurred on FB.  Some people say that PTA’s provide the same quality of care as PT’s and others state that PTA’s offer less quality care than PT’s.

I’ve worked with rockstar PTA’s (plus my wife is a PTA so I am already a little biased) and I’ve worked with some PT’s that I would never refer a patient to (no offense if you think that this is you).

“Three dependent variables were analyzed: high PTA utilization, number of visits per treatment episode, and patients FHS (functional health status) at discharge…high PTA utilization, defined as a patient seen by a PTA 50 percent or more of the treatment time”

High PTA utilization, in this study, meant that the PTA was seen by the PTA for over 50% of the visits.

Again, I have worked in locations in which this was true and locations in which we had no PTA’s, so I have seen the results from both.

Looking at treatments per episode is a means of measuring efficiency of treatment.  It may not be the best measurement, but is one way of looking at treatment efficiency.

Looking at outcomes is one way of looking at effectiveness of treatment.  Again, it may not be the best way, but it is one way.

“…less than 2 percent of patients were treated by the PTA for more than 75% of the treatment time, and 8 percent were treated by the PTA 50% of the time or more.”

I’ve been in clinics without PTA’s and with PTA’s.  This stat will be correlated with the amount of PT’s/PTA’s in the clinic.

In private practice, it was 0 PTA’s.  In the hospital we had 1.5 PTA’s for 4 PT’s.  Currently, in my practice there are 2 PTA’s for 1.5 PT’s.

“The second dependent variable, number of visits per treatment episode…We believed that fewer visits per treatment episode were a marker of greater efficiency of care”

This is debatable by people.  I’ve actually been involved in these on-line debates.  Some people will fight that more visits equals better, but more is not always better.

If we can get patients better in shorter visits, then this seems to be ideal to me.  If additional visits would correlate with increased function, then I would be all for increased visits if the patient is willing and able to pay for increased visits (time and money).

“The majority of physical therapy care was delivered by PTs with no reported assistance from PTAs.”

Again, in a clinic without PTA’s, there will be no reported assistance from PTA’s.  This study used data from FOTO, which included private practices and hospital based practices.

“PTAs were involved in the care of patients only 35% of the time. High PTA utilization was relatively uncommon, with only 7.7 percent of the patients seen by PTAs more than 50% of the time.”

This is interesting.  It is becoming more and more common to find clinics advertising/marketing that the patient will only be seen by a PT, or even a step further a Doctor of Physical Therapy.  I don’t know how well this marketing is going.

When seeing it, it subconsciously implies that a DPT is better than a PTA.  I think that this is very individualized.  For example, a PTA that has continued to improve over the years through independent study may be a better clinician than a PT that never sees patients (administration/teacher/manager).

“Medicare patients who were seen in private practice were 48 percent less likely to have had high PTA utilization.”

Some insurance companies require that a patient be seen by a PT and prohibit PTA’s from treating patients.  This will skew numbers towards the PT in private practice.

“Treatment with a therapy aide for 1-25 percent time and greater than 25 percent compared with 0 percent, and high utilization of the PTA were associated with 1.8, 2.6 and 2.0 more visits, respectively.”

Lets break this down.

Being treated by a therapy aide for 1-25% of the time resulted in 1.8 more patient visits per episode.

Being treated by a therapy aide for > 25% of the time resulted in 2.6 more visits per episode.

Being treated by a PTA for greater than 50% of the time resulted in 2.0 more visits.

Remember, an aide is someone that may not have any college experience or degrees.  The aide is not legally able to treat patients that are payed by the government.

Utilizing an aide only results in slightly more visits than using a PTA! Why is this?!

An aide is paid much less on average than a PTA.  For example, the aide may only cost the employer $12.50/hour.  The PTA will cost the employer $30.00/hour.

I see employers trying to cut costs by hiring more aides (not ethical to call it physical therapy if it is not provided by a licensed physical therapy professional IMO).

If it doesn’t change the outcomes though, who’s to argue against it?

I can see both sides of the coin.  Margins (profits) in physical therapy is small, so cutting costs is a business decision.

Providing quality care is something that IMO we should all strive for.

“Greater than 50% time spent with the PTA was predictive of lower discharge scores as was time spent with a therapy aide.”

This part may be the most important statistic in the article.  Seeing someone other than the PT led to worse outcomes.

This is the statistic that I was looking for because of the original question asked.

In other words, the PT will get a patient better than a non-PT and do it faster in an outpatient setting.

Strong words for businesses and people looking to go to PT school.

What is the future of PTA’s?  I don’t know.  Medicare just announced that they will be reducing reimbursement rates for PTA’s in an outpatient setting.  Pair this with the small margins in physical therapy and the question becomes is it profitable to hire PTA’s in an outpatient setting, seeing patients according to Medicare rules?

“…our analysis shows that Medicare regulations for continuous in-room supervision of PTA’s in private practice are associated with a decreased likelihood of high PTA utilization.”

 

“High utilization of PTA’s, and use of therapy aides were each independently associated with more visits per treatment episode, and lower functional health. Thus our findings suggest that use of care extenders such as PTA’s and therapy aides in place of PT’s is associated with more costly and lower quality care delivery in outpatient rehabilitation.”

 

I advise all people to look to the source:

link to article

 

Prone lying

I hear it frequently…this is an exercise?!

Sure, if it fulfills the purpose of making one more mobile, more resilient and more awesome!

This position is called prone lying and just means that you are lying face down.

For people with back pain, this has been referred to as the rescue position.

This position can be highly effective in reducing back or leg pain in 49-64% of people with symptoms.

Is it for everyone?

No..of course not. There is not a single exercise that is beneficial for 100% of the population that has pain, but there are patterns.

If your pain worsens with sitting, bending or twisting then this may be beneficial.

If your symptoms worsen withstanding or walking, this position may not work well for your symptoms.

Some things to note:

1. If you get into this position and your symptoms move further away from your spine…no good and you should stop and seek a full evaluation

2. If your symptoms move closer to your spine, you should pick up the book “Treat Your Own Back”.