Introduction: The general practitioner shortage in the United States coupled with a growing number of Americans living with disability has fueled speculation of non-physician providers assuming a greater role in musculoskeletal healthcare. Previous physician shortages have been similarly addressed, and expanding physical therapy (PT) scope of practice may best serve to fill this need. Resistance to expanding PT practice focuses on patient safety as PTs assume the roles traditionally performed by primary care providers. While studies have shown advanced practice PT to be safe, none have compared safety events in advanced practice PT compared to primary care to determine if there are increased patient risks. Therefore, the purpose of our study is to examine the rate of safety events and utilization of services in an advanced practice PT clinic compared to a primary care clinic. A secondary aim of our study was to report safety events associated with spinal manipulation and dry needling procedures.
Materials and methods: Productivity and safety data were retrospectively collected from Malcolm Grow Medical Center from 2015 to 2017 for the Family Health Clinic (FHC) and an advanced practice Physical Therapy Clinic (PTC). Chi-square tests for independence, risk ratios (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (95%) were used to compare the relationship between the frequency of (1) patient encounters and clinical procedures and (2) clinical procedures and safety events.
Results: Seventy-five percent (12/16) of safety events reported in the PTC were defined as near misses compared to 50% (28/56) within the FHC (RR 1.5; 95% CIs: 1.0 to 2.2). Safety events were more likely to reach patients in the FHC compared to the PTC (RR 1.9; 95% CIs: 0.8 to 4.7). Safety events associated with minor harm to patients was n = 4 and n = 3 in the FHC and PTC respectively. No sentinel events, intentional harm events, nor actual events with more than minor harm were reported in either clinic. Significant relationships indicated that prescriptions, laboratory studies, imaging studies and referrals, were all more likely to be ordered in the FHC than the PTC (p < 0.01). The PTC ordered one diagnostic imaging study for every 37 encounters compared to one in every 5 encounters in the FHC. The PTC similarly referred one patient to another healthcare provider for every 52 encounters, fewer than the one per every 3 encounters in the FHC. There was a significant relationship between encounters and diagnoses, indicating a higher number of diagnoses per encounter in the FHC, though the difference of 0.31 diagnoses per encounter may not be clinically meaningful (p < 0.01). A total of 1,818 thrust manipulations and 2,910 dry needling procedures were completed without any reported safety events.
Conclusion: These results suggest advanced practice PT has a similar safety profile to primary care. The authority to order musculoskeletal imaging and refer to other clinicians were among the most commonly utilized privileges and may be of primary importance when establishing an advanced practice PT clinic. These results support research showing advanced practice PT may lead to reductions in specialty referrals, diagnostic imaging, and pharmaceutical interventions.
Keywords: Acupuncture; Medical Errors; Patient Harm; Risk Management.
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