NYMC Faculty Publications

Factors Impacting Physical Therapy Utilization for Patients With Nonspecific Low Back Pain: Retrospective Analysis of a Clinical Data Set

Journal Title

Physical Therapy

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Physical Therapy

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Third Department

Health Policy and Management


OBJECTIVE: Factors predicting physical therapy utilization for lower back pain (LBP) remain unclear, limiting the development of value-based initiatives. The purpose of this study was to identify important factors that impact the number of physical therapist visits per episode of care for US adults with nonspecific LBP.

METHODS: This study was a retrospective observational cohort study of a clinical dataset derived from 80 clinics of a single physical therapy provider organization. Research variables were categorized at the individual (patient) level and the organization (therapist, clinic) level. A hierarchical regression model was designed to identify factors influencing the number of physical therapist visits per episode of care.

RESULTS: Higher out-of-pocket payments per visit, receipt of "active" physical therapy, longer average visit length, earlier use of physical therapy, and sex of the therapist (male) were found to predict fewer visits per episode of care. Percent change of function, prior receipt of physical therapy by the same provider organization, self-discharge from physical therapy, level of starting function, and therapist certification were found to predict more visits. Of the variance in number of visits, 8.0% was attributable to the health care organization.

CONCLUSIONS: Individual factors, such as higher out-of-pocket payment, have a significant impact on reducing visits per episode of care and should be considered when developing value-based initiatives to optimize clinical and utilization outcomes.

IMPACT: Payers use consumer-directed healthcare to reduce costs by discouraging utilization of low value services and encouraging use of low-cost providers. LBP is a costly condition for which physical therapy is a high-value treatment. This study shows that non-need factors predict the number of physical therapy visits per episode of care for patients with nonspecific LBP. Insurance benefit plans with lower out-of-pocket payments for physical therapy and higher reimbursement for active physical therapist interventions may facilitate appropriate utilization of high-value treatment for LBP.