I spent the last two days in a room full of about 200 physical therapy colleagues at the George Washington University. The participants were a mix of educators, researchers, direct care clinicians and managers/administrators. I attended the conference, “Preparing the Next Generation of Physical Therapists for Innovative Practice (Physical Therapy Leaders Networking to Transform Health Care)."

I attended the conference for several reasons. First I manage a large rehabilitation department that employs approximately 50 physical therapists and is growing still. I am interested in the future of physical therapy and in promoting best practices in PT at my organization. Second, I am interested in Health Policy and one of the organizers had given me some insight into the line up of speakers and topics and I was interested in the PT perspective on these issues. Lastly, I attended because of my role on the AOTA Board of Directors. I have contended that one important reason to move to a single point of entry at the doctoral level for Occupational Therapists in the US is to prepare our entry level therapists for the practice of 2026 and beyond. I think that means a different type of practice and will require different skills.

This conference was ALL about the future; every presenter spoke about the changes in our health system and in our populations, how physical therapy is adapting and more importantly how the discipline needs to continue to transform. There were a couple of key phrases and concepts I heard over and over. Among them were:

  • Population health management.
  • Independent practitioners who can lead and function on inter-professional teams.
  • Population health management.
  • Decreasing utilization of therapy services and medical services by helping to differentiate between complex patients who need physician services and non-complex patients who ONLY need PT and/or any other service they refer the patient to…….
  • Population health management!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Anticipating delivery needs and trends in ACO saturated environments; Medicaid managed care and capitated payment environments and providing answers to help organizations solve problems they have not yet encountered.
  • Innovating within interprofessional teams.
  • Redesigning clinical education to prepare entry-level practitioners to hit the ground as leaders, effective collaborators and independent practitioners and knowing when each of these roles moves to the forefront.
  • Upping the bar in the ability of front line practitioners to identify, collect, and analyze data and generate information to guide their practice and prove their value to employers, payers and the public.
  • Health reform is not going away, we can’t stick our heads in the sand.

I was impressed with the level of energy and dialogue particularly from the direct care clinicians and private business owners who demonstrated great concern for the future of physical therapy practice and education. I heard a lot of ideas about how to transform clinical education and fieldwork and became aware of many new resources to help me in my role as a manager and volunteer occupational leader.

It was two days that left a clear impression about how well physical therapy is organizing for the future……