Hospitalists and PTs: Building strong relationships

Optimizing discharge disposition and longitudinal recovery


Sanctimonious, self-righteous, discharge saboteurs. These are just a few descriptors I’ve heard hospitalists use to describe my physical therapy (PT) colleagues.

Luann Tammany, SVP of Clinical Strategy & Innovation for Remedy Partners

Luann Tammany

These charged comments come mostly after a hospitalist reads therapy notes and encounters a contradiction to their chosen discharge location for a patient.

I recently met with hospitalists from four different hospitals. They echoed the frustrations of their physician colleagues across the country. The PTs they work with write “the patient requires 24-hour supervision and 3 hours of therapy a day,” or “the patient is unsafe to go home and needs continued therapy at an inpatient rehabilitation center.” The hospitalists in turn want to know “If I discharge the patient home am I liable if the patient falls or has some other negative outcome?” The frustration hospitalists experience is palpable and understandable as their attempts to support a home recovery are often contradicted.

Outside the four walls

The transition from fee-for-service to value-based care now calls upon hospitalists to be innovators in managing patients in alternative payment models, such as accountable care organizations, bundled payment programs, and Medicare Advantage plans. Each model looks to support a home recovery whenever possible and prevent readmissions.

Case managers for Medicare Advantage programs routinely review PT notes to inform hospital discharge disposition and post-acute authorization for skilled nursing facility (SNF) admissions and days in SNF. Hospitalists, working with care managers, can follow suit to succeed in alternative payment models. They have the advantage of in-person access to PT colleagues for elaboration and push-back as necessary. For hospitalists, working collaboratively with PTs is crucial to improving the value of care provided as patients transition beyond the four walls of the hospital.

The evolution of PT in acute care

Prior to diagnosis-related groups (DRGs), PTs were profit centers for hospitals – rehabilitation departments were well staffed and easily accommodated consults and requests for mobility.

With the advent of DRGs, physical therapy became a cost center, and rehabilitation staffs were reduced. PTs became overextended, were less available for consultations for mobilization, and patients suffered the deleterious effects of immobility. With reduced staffing and a rush to get patients out of the hospital, acute PT practice morphed into evaluating functional status and determining discharge destination.

Now, as members of an aligned health care team, PTs need to facilitate a safe home discharge whenever possible and determine what skilled services a patient needs post-acute stay, not where they should receive them.

Discharge disposition and longitudinal recovery

PTs, as experts in function, have a series of “special tests” at their disposal beyond pain, range of motion, and strength assessments. These include: Activity Measure for Post-Acute Care (AM-PAC) or “6-Clicks” Mobility Score, Timed Up and Go, Six-Minute Walk Test, Tinetti, Berg Balance Scale, Modified Barthel Index, Five Times Chair Rise, and Thirty-Second Chair Rise. These are all objective measures of function that can be used to inform discharge disposition and guide longitudinal recovery.

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