Advancing Quality in the Physical Therapy Workforce

quality in physical therapy workforceLike other health care professions, physical therapy is faced with the health care reform demands of how to improve quality and contain costs in an era of rising patient-care demand and shortages of clinicians.

To face these challenges head-on, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) has several workforce initiatives in motion on transforming the profession. These include a model developed to determine the number of physical therapists required to meet patient demand and to facilitate workforce planning.

According to APTA’s most recent data, a shortage of nearly 27,000 physical therapists (PTs) is projected by 2020. “The growing demand for PTs has intensified largely due to the approximate 20 million Americans who now have health care insurance as well as the expanding role of physical therapists across the health care continuum,” said Robyn Watson Ellerbe, PhD, Vice President of Research for APTA. “Having sufficient supply of physical therapists and physical therapist assistants (PTAs) is core to being able to fulfill the physical therapy needs of the population and produce high quality outcomes.”

Better Workforce Data

To further facilitate workforce planning, the Minimum Data Set (MDS) was created by APTA and the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy working in collaboration with the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis. The MDS enables enhanced data collection to measure the physical therapy workforce and help understand supply and demand gaps. It will answer questions such as the number of physical therapist providers; the race, gender and education of these clinicians; and the facilities and locations where services are provided.

Another workforce initiative to advance the quality of the physical therapy workforce is the development of the Physical Therapy Outcomes Registry (PTOR), launched in February 2015. The PTOR is an organized system for collecting data to evaluate patient function and other clinically relevant measures about patients receiving physical therapy. The PTOR will help guide best practices, reporting requirements, benchmarking reports, policies and payment models. Ultimately, the registry is expected to connect to electronic health records to make reporting easier and develop quality measures on patient populations. The knowledge from this registry should help physical therapists deliver even better care and outcomes for their patients.

“APTA believes that the registry supports the association’s vision for the profession and will be able to demonstrate the value of physical therapist practice and the ways it can help transform the health care system,” Ellerbe said.

Raising Educational Requirements

To further advance the quality of the physical therapy workforce, APTA has raised the educational requirements for professional entry to the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree effective Jan. 1, 2016. To help offset the student debt challenge of the - DPT degree, the Physical Therapist Workforce and Patient Access Act of 2013 has been reintroduced, authorizing that PTs participate in the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) Loan Repayment Program. Adding PTs to the list of professions in the NHSC program also would help address the health needs in underserved areas.

Currently, there is no rehabilitative care component in the NHSC.

Advancing the quality of the physical therapy workforce during an era of health care reform and clinician shortages is challenging. But initiatives to achieve this are underway through increased training, better information to understand supply and demand, and increasing opportunities for PTs to pay off education debt and gain entry-level experience.