Do physical therapy students always choose the safe alternative?
Does $100,000 in debt cause students to vote for the status quo?
Do physical therapists and students feel so much anxiety over health care reform that they prefer to vote for short-run self-interests over long-run investments?
Outcomes measurement linked to physical therapist reimbursement was the subject of the 2012 Oxford Debate at the Florida Physical Therapy Association Meeting (FPTA) in Daytona Beach. The students and physical therapists in the room - about 400 - mainly voted against using these measures for payment.
I question if students, in these changing times, are prepared to put the interests of their patients and their profession ahead of their own interests. I can't really blame them. I was a student once, too. The future is uncertain and scary.
This student-led decision was reminiscent of the American Physical Therapy Association's (APTA) 2011 Annual Conference in Washington DC when a student-dominated audience voted against Clinical Decision Rules.
Oxford Debates pit two teams arguing contrary positions. Each team "wins" by persuading the audience to cheer, make noise or physically move from one side of the room to the other. The side with the most supporters wins the debate. Most Oxford Debates handle serious topics in a fun environment. Drinks are usually served.
This convention was well-attended by students, many of them from the University of St. Augustine. The student-dominated audience split about 60/40 against using patient outcomes to reward physical therapists.
Inadequate risk adjustment seemed to be the main reason outcome measures should not be used, according to the speakers and the audience. In other words, the measure would ONLY capture the outcome of care which might depend on factors other than the therapists' effort and skill.
For instance, if the patient does not do their home exercise program they will tend to have worse outcomes than if they do their exercises. Older people with multiple diseases will usually have worse outcome scores at baseline and at follow-up than younger people without disease.
We've recently heard similar arguments in the Chicago teachers' strike when school teachers objected to being paid based on the standardized test scores (outcomes) of their students. The teachers argued that many factors that affect test scores are beyond their control. Paying teachers based on test scores was unfair since many of the determinants of teacher performance happened outside of the classroom.
A physical therapy student at the Oxford Debate noted that the most important determinants of health also occur outside the physical therapy clinic. These determinants are things like the following:
- family and social support
- a positive outlook
- educational level
- addictive behaviors, such as cigarette smoking
- level of activity
However, I think these students' behavior is rational.
Instead of pushing physical therapists and students to accept a reimbursement system that puts us at risk let's design a system that lets us think about patient care rather than worry about money.
What do you think?