Recently, a new hash tag has emerged in the physical therapy twittersphere: #SolvePT. Selena, via the Evidence in Motion Blog, shared her thoughts in a post The Pulse of Physical Therapy. Dr. E of the Manual Therapist also briefly highlighted this new hash tag in a post.


Initially, discussions focused on financial issues of physician owned physical therapy services (POPTS), student loans, payment, and educational costs. But, today involvement and content was rich with various contributors and topics. Physical Therapist Twitter regulars such as myself (@Dr_Ridge_DPT), Larry Benz (@PhysicalTherapy) and @SnippetPhysTher were present. @PTThinkTank even tweeted a few insights. Other tweeps included:

Topics discussed today were extremely broad and covered many areas of practice:
  • Education: Cost, Length, Effectiveness, Organization
  • Clinical Education: Models, Need for change, Payment
  • Financial: Debt vs. Income, Payment by Setting, Incentives, Payment Models
  • Best Practice: Defining, measuring, incentivizing, and teaching
  • Outcomes: Which ones? How to Measure?
  • Value: Cost Savings, How to measure, How to communicate
A very interesting question that I took from the discussion was: Who is the physical therapy consumer or customer? I made the point that physical therapy has many consumers at various levels of the care delivery process. An individual receiving care from a physical therapist is an obvious and direct consumer. But, other customers of our services include referral sources, other health care providers, payers, hospitals, entities we work for, the health care system, and society as a whole. Our care, but also our knowledge or advocacy, can directly or indirectly affect these various stake holders.

Web 2.0 principles allow us to crowd source and brainstorm with a much wider audience; geographically, practice setting, and expertise. This hashtag will allow for the recording and analysis of a wide range of view points and ideas. We can follow the evolution of topics over time. This stream and  medium could be leveraged by larger, more formal organizations (are you listening APTA?) for idea generation  to guide future task forces and initiatives. In fact, some of the issues, solutions, and thoughts for future direction are solid. #SolvePT is already evolving into a task force.

My Insights and Thoughts

There was a lot of focus on “best practices” in physical therapy. Defining, measuring, communicating, and then teaching best practices is extremely challenging. Todd Davenport of @PacificDPTweet, made the observation that “best practice” is a moving target given the evolution of research, science, and understanding. I agree. Further, who defines best practice? I think we must look beyond a specific patient and episode of care when defining, analyzing, and teaching best practice. In addition, we must look at multi-level outcomes. For example, for an outpatient perspective we can not just look at the patient specific outcome of that episode of care, the time/number of visits, and it’s cost. That is a too narrowly focused frame of reference. We should broaden our lens, and our potential for impact. We need to also need to consider (and target?) recurrence, future health care costs, risk reduction for other medical conditions, and overall health/fitness. Cardiopulmonary fitness is maybe the most dramatic modifiable factor to prevent disease, morbidity, and mortality.

I brought up the topic of physical therapists in hospital intensive care units. Johns Hopkins performed a quality improvement project where they staffed 1 physical therapist for a 16 bed medical ICU. Their estimation is that by decreasing ICU length of stay and increasing patient mobility/function the hospital, and thus the health care system, saved an estimated 5 million dollars over a 1 year period. The internal investigation lead to the hospital staffing 2.2 full time physical therapists solely in a 16 bed medical ICU. This is a dramatic change in practice focused not on productivity or reimbursement, but on VALUE, risk reduction, and other broader outcomes.

Unfortunately, in discussing best practice no attention was brought to the actual content of current PT programs. In my opinion, pain science/physiology, basic neuroscience, critical thinking, philosophy of science, cognitive biases, and metacognition are vastly lacking from our curriculums.

The teaching and study of pain should be integral in all PT education, both didactic and clinical. We have neuromuscular, musculoskeletal, cardiopulmonary, and or medicine tracks in our programs. Why do we not have a specific pain track? Or, at least a focus and integration of neuroscience and pain physiology into our other courses? Regardless of practice setting, the majority of our patients will have a primary or secondary complaint of pain. Joe Brence, who blogs at ForwardThinkingPT, started an online petition regarding this exact topic. I recommend you sign it HERE.

In order to be “evidence based” (or more accurately Science Based) we need extensive training in the philosophy of science and critical thinking including prior plausibility, research design, and article analyses. To assume that students entering PT programs received such instruction as undergraduates is, to put it nicely, a huge assumption. How are we to make appropriate clinical decisions if we do not understand our inherent cognitive traps and biases? How are we to correct them, if we can not even recognize them? The skill of appropriately analyzing a single article based on design, statistics, and results in the context of plausibility, basic science, and the state of other literature AND THEN applying that to everyday clinical practice is what being a master clinician-scientist is all about. And, that is what we need to strive for. The title of Tamara Little and Todd Davenport’s recent editorial in the Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy sums it up quite nicely: Should we be expert clinicians or scholars? The answer is yes.

How do we generate results from this passion and discussion?

  1. How do you think we should #solvePT?
  2. What are the most pressing issues in education, payment, practice, and our evolution?
  3. How can we focus some of the general issues and proposed ideas into specific and concrete action; solutions!?

#SolvePT has been thought provoking. Hopefully, it will continue to grow. I foresee big potential in this type of interaction.