Treatment outcomes for low back pain and COPD differ considerably between physiotherapy practices. Physiotherapists gain more insight into these outcomes with the help of standardized measurements and better registration. This concludes Koen Verburg of Radboudumc in his PhD thesis on quality measurements in physiotherapy. ‘It is important that physiotherapists use these tools to improve care.’
Patients with low back pain and the lung disease COPD receive physiotherapy to reduce their symptoms. But how well does this treatment actually work? Koen Verburg investigated which measurements a physiotherapist should perform to determine treatment outcomes. He compared the results of various practices and found major differences between them. Verburg: 'This gives physiotherapists a starting point to discuss the optimal treatment with each other.’
Together with more than 1,200 physiotherapists working in approximately 250 practices, Verburg developed a set of standard measurements that are now used by around 10,0000 physiotherapists. Verburg: 'For example, in the past many different measurements for pain were used. Now everyone measures pain in the same way, so we can compare the results.' The study shows that these measurements reveal differences in treatment outcomes between practices much better than patient satisfaction measurements. 'Most practices score very high on patient satisfaction. Although this is good news, it does not tell the whole story about the success of a treatment,' Verburg says.
So how can physical therapists improve their treatments? Verburg: 'Using an online dashboard, practices can compare their treatment outcomes with the national average. As such, they can evaluate to what extent their own treatment outcomes deviate from the results of colleagues. You can compare this to a dashboard light in your car. If it comes on, you have to look under the hood to see what is wrong and how you can fix it. For example, by organizing meetings where physiotherapists from different practices discuss their treatment methods with each other.' Future research will have to show whether this leads to better care.
Improving care for patients
Verburg involved all stakeholders in his studies: physiotherapists, professional bodies, healthcare insurers and patient associations. 'All parties endorse the importance of collecting data to improve the quality of physiotherapy care,' Verburg said. 'We have created all the conditions to gain better insight into the results of physiotherapy care for low back pain and COPD. Now it is up to the physiotherapy profession to continue using the measurement sets together with patients and insurers so that we can improve care for these patients.'
More information about this PhD thesis defense
PhD thesis defense of Koen Verburg on September 9th at 12.30 p.m. Title of dissertation: The proof of the pudding: Using outcome-based quality indicators in physical therapy. (Co-)supervisors: Prof. Dr. P.J. van der Wees, Prof. Dr. M.W.G. Nijhuis-van der Sanden, Dr. S.A. van Dulmen and Dr. H. Kiers.