October 1, 2013 Departments

On the Pulse: SLPs Feel Continued Pressure on Clinical Judgment

Medical SLPs report engaging in interprofessional collaboration and collecting outcomes, but indicate little change in productivity requirements.

On the pulse

An increasing number of speech-language pathologists working in health care settings report employer pressure to provide services that should be left to clinical judgment—such as frequency and intensity of services, and type of services—according to ASHA's 2013 health care survey.

The biennial survey tracks a variety of practice-related issues including salaries, which saw a substantial increase in 2013. Each survey also includes new questions that gauge respondents' knowledge of and experience in emerging issues in health care, such as the use of outcome measures, application of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health, and interprofessional collaboration. The full survey results are available online.

Employer pressure

In recent years, SLPs have reported increasing pressure from employers to provide types or frequency of services, regardless of their clinical judgment about a particular patient. Although survey questions were slightly different, results indicate a 15 percent increase from 2005 (when 89 percent reported they did not feel employer pressure) to 2009 (74 percent). In 2013, that figure was 71 percent—down 3 percentage points from 2009.

In 2009, 11 percent of respondents—including 27 percent in skilled nursing facilities—reported pressure to provide inappropriate frequency or intensity of services. In 2013, 14 percent reported this pressure, and that figure was even higher—33 percent—in skilled nursing facilities.

Productivity

Although clinicians across health care settings express concerns about productivity requirements or pressures, survey results do not show dramatic changes in overall trends. In 2011, full-time employees reported spending 75 percent of their time in direct treatment (individual and group), 19 percent in documentation and 6 percent in other activities. In 2013, full-time employees reported spending 73 percent of their time in direct treatment, 20 percent in documentation and 6 percent on other activities. This statistic remains stable: As far back as 2005, SLPs reported spending six hours of an eight-hour workday (75 percent) in direct treatment.

Outcomes

Medicare's new requirement to report outcome measures on claim forms exemplifies the increasing demand by all third-party payers for outcome measures to justify treatment. Of the 40 percent of respondents who used outcome measures, the highest percentage was in rehabilitation hospitals (84 percent) and the smallest was in home health (24 percent). The most commonly used functional outcome measures were functional independence measures from the Uniform Data System and functional communication measures from ASHA's National Outcomes Measurement System.

ICF

The International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health, published by the World Health Organization in 2001, is a framework for describing functional status using the domains of body structure and function, activities and participation. ASHA adopted this framework as part of the speech-language pathology scope of practice in 2001, and other professional organizations and government agencies—including the Centers for Medicare and Medical Services—are considering it to classify and code patients holistically rather than by discipline. However, 44 percent of survey respondents indicated that they had never heard of it, and 44 percent said they had heard of it but didn't know much about it. As public and private payers increasingly demand objective and comparable outcome reporting across rehabilitation disciplines, the ICF is most often recommended as a possible solution.

Interprofessional collaboration

For the first time, the survey asked about a growing trend in health care—the use of interprofessional collaboration to improve outcomes through communication, efficiency and patient-focused care. Fifty-one percent of SLPs reported engaging in daily or weekly interprofessional collaboration for assessment. Even more (64 percent) reported daily or weekly collaboration for treatment, with 37 percent for documentation, 52 percent for clinical team meetings, and 54 percent for patient/family meetings. Rehabilitation hospitals had the highest percentages for all activities except collaboration for treatment, which was highest for SLPs in skilled nursing facilities (76 percent).

The survey has also tracked for many years whether other professions are the primary provider of swallowing services, due to concerns about the variability of training in other disciplines. Only 12 percent reported that professionals other than SLPs deliver primary swallowing services, with pediatric hospitals reporting the highest percentage (47 percent), similar to the figures from 2011 (12 percent overall, 44 percent in pediatric hospitals).

Janet Brown, MA, CCC-SLP, is ASHA director of health care services. jbrown@asha.org

cite as: Brown, J. (2013, October 01). On the Pulse: SLPs Feel Continued Pressure on Clinical Judgment. The ASHA Leader.

  

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