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The Link Between Outcomes and Continuing Education

Today we welcome John Woolf, PT, to the Keet blog. John is the co-founder of Patient Success Systems and takes the concept of healing far beyond traditional academic boundaries. He believes that today’s health care system requires a new approach to patient care that begins with developing the skills that get patients engaged with their own care.

For this article, we sat down with John to ask him about his approach to patient outcomes, how outcomes can help grow and develop your therapists, the risk of not reviewing your outcomes data and much more. Don’t miss the Q&A below.

Q1: Let’s start with outcomes as it seems to be a buzzword in healthcare right now. What do patient outcomes mean to you in a clinic setting? What do they mean to the patient?

Great question. I see that a lot of physical therapists right now are getting boxed in with this idea of outcomes. First, let’s define what an outcome is….

An outcome is any result that is measurable-and the key phrase for practical purposes is “measurable result”. I believe that clinicians and businesses that are in the habit of measuring outcomes, whatever that outcome may be, have the benefit of being able to measure the changes that come from either intentional or unintentional actions.

In other words, “you can’t manage what you can’t measure”.

Unfortunately, I think there is a negative bias developing right now around the term “outcomes”. Whether the negativity stems from our government or an organizational requirement, it’s not helping anyone involved.

Instead, outcomes should be seen as an opportunity to reflect on how an individual is doing as a clinician and or as a clinical team.

Patients vs Outcomes: Friend or foe? 

I think another challenge providers are struggling with is the actual process of gathering these data. In my experience working with clinics across the country, I’m sensing that there’s not a lot of confidence in the patient’s ability to interpret the questions in many of the tools.

The truth is that patients are struggling to answer some of these questions. I’ve had patients of my own push back because they didn’t find the questions relevant or simply didn’t understand them – and I consider myself a pretty good teacher!

A great shortcoming of implementing these outcome tools is assisting patients to understand the what and the why behind these “extra steps”.  

In order to develop a successful outcomes program in your clinic, it’s essential to first put yourself in the patient’s shoes. Have you explained the history of outcomes tools, why the questions you are asking are valid and crucial to their recovery, and a best practices approach to putting them to use?

At the end of the day, the education must not only be for the clinical team, but also serve as patient facing education that creates clear expectations.

Q2: How can patient outcomes data benefit a practice?

Outcomes data provides you with indispensable knowledge – and knowledge is power!

I’m a strong believer in the idea of Player Development. If you’ve heard me lecture on this topic before you’ll understand that I strongly believe that organizations or teams succeed because they have strong players.

Think about it, statistics on professional athletes are tracked (and tracked and tracked…) to measure performance. Batting averages, ERA’s, sacks, handicaps – I could go on and on. We know a player’s performance and ultimately, it’s the responsibility of the leaders in the organization to gather these data, organize it in a way that’s meaningful to the players and subsequently develop a system that helps each of the players understand the data. Not only that, but established the process of mutually analyzing the data and identifying ways in which scores can be improved. I have called this process “reviewing game film”.

If leaders don’t do this, then outcomes data simply turns into “numbers” and people, organizations, or both run the risk of losing the opportunity to truly improve. 

Progressive organizations are guiding their players through a process of truly understanding what attributes to an outcome. And this invites a deep learning opportunity for everyone involved.

Q3: Talk about the importance of continuing education in a practice. What happens when staff members don’t have access to training resources?

Continuing education in any professional endeavor is essential. Often when I speak with new graduates the most important message that I give is that their learning has just begun, and it is essential to consider a learning path for professional growth

The challenge for many professionals today isn’t just what to learn, but how and when to learn it.

No question, there is a big shift right now in how learning happens. With the advent of online access to information, there’s almost an overwhelming array of options. Critical issues like work/life balance, higher productivity standards, and understanding how to succeed as a provider in a rapidly changing environment can be frustrating. Practices run a big risk by not creating a “player development” plan that will help them to hone their skills in all aspects of clinical and business performance. Because of online learning, we are in the midst of an educational revolution where the more advanced clinics are going to develop their players with micro-learning and relationship-centered systems that integrate performance data.

Q4: How do patient outcomes affect training resources and continuing education in a practice?

Let’s go back to statistics of professional athletes.

Say you have a team that practices 16 hours a day but continues to lose game after game. The most obvious next step isn’t to keep doing what you’re doing but rather look at your game stats, or your outcomes. What performance data is most important? How reliable is the data?  What is your process for regularly reviewing the data so that players can learn?

Top tier organizations treat continuing education in the same way. They treat continuing education as part of a professional and personal development program.

It’s not something that a PT does in order to meet their licensure requirements, but rather an intentional process of becoming an excellent professional that is aligned to the mission, beliefs and values of the organization of which they are apart (not to mention the benefits of personal growth). Leader’s will know that the learning is happening, not because the player “checks the box” on a learning module, but because the measurable outcome around which the learning was designed is satisfactory or improving.

Above all else, continuing education must not only be effective but efficient. The future of education will meet the learner where he or she is, and must be engaging, meaningful and measurable.