Study design: Effect of clinical specialization was studied in a retrospective analysis of a commercial outcomes database.
Objective: To assess effectiveness of care as measured by changes in health status and efficiency as measured by visits, duration of treatment episode, and net revenue between patients treated by clinicians with and without orthopaedic clinical specialist certification (OCS).
Background: Clinical specialization is becoming common in physical therapy, but there are no studies to support improved efficiency or effectiveness with advanced practitioner competencies.
Methods and measures: A total of 258 adults treated in practices participating in the Focus on Therapeutic Outcomes process during 1996 comprised the data set. Seven physical therapists with OCS treated 129 patients (clinical specialist group). These patients were matched to 129 patients not treated by physical therapists with OCS (comparison group) randomly chosen from the aggregate data set. All patients completed a standardized health status questionnaire at initial evaluation and discharge. Standardized response means (SRMs) were calculated to measure change during treatment.
Results: Therapists with OCS were more efficient than therapists without OCS, using fewer visits (9.1 +/- 6.7 vs 11.2 +/- 7.4) for less estimated cost ($949 +/- $736 vs $1238 +/- $1227) during the same treatment duration (35.9 +/- 48.3 vs 35.4 +/- 25.6 days) and performed fewer treatment procedures. Overall, there was no difference in effectiveness as measured by change in health status, that is, unit of functional improvement per episode (0.89 +/- 1.0 SRM for clinical specialists compared with 0.88 +/- 1.0 SRM for comparison group). The OCS group had better value (unit of functional improvement per estimated dollar) and utilization (unit of functional improvement per visit) for the constructs of physical functioning (value: 1.31 +/- 2.7 vs 0.78 +/- 1.8; utilization: 1.25 +/- 2.2 vs 0.76 +/- 1.6) and role physical (value: 1.26 +/- 2.9 vs 0.44 +/- 3.5; utilization: 1.11 +/- 1.9 vs 0.51 +/- 2.3) (SRMs for OCS group vs comparison group, respectively).
Conclusions: Our data support the conclusion that physical therapists with OCS are more efficient compared with clinicians without OCS. Study limitations in design, small sample size, and low number of clinicians are discussed.