PT/PTA Relational Coordination in Physical Therapy Education
Purpose: Intra-professional education provides students with knowledge and communication skills necessary for collaborative practice upon graduation. However, physical therapy (PT) and physical therapy assistant (PTA) programs often lack opportunities for these experiences. The purpose of this study was to describe the process of developing a PT/PTA event that reinforces the relationships and communication between students to improve patient care. Additionally we sought to determine the impact of the educational event on attitudes of PT and PTA students. We hypothesized that this event would improve attitudes regarding collaborative practice and promote relational coordination in physical therapy. Methods/Description: Faculty from two independently accredited educational programs (PT and PTA) developed curriculum from APTA resources to facilitate communication, problem solving, and teamwork using patient cases. Forty PT students and 24 PTA students then participated in a half-day collaborative event that included lecture and small group discussion. Students worked through patient cases and documentation concerns for each case. This highlighted problem solving and the importance of timely and accurate communication. All students completed a questionnaire before and after the event to assess changes in attitudes and perceptions of each other’s respective career. Results/Outcomes: Compared to baseline, PT students reported a more positive attitude towards working with PTA’s (p = 0.002), felt more positive about PTA’s independently progressing a patient toward established goals without the supervision of a PT (p < 0.001), and increased their comfort level with PTA’s performing PT on any patient after that patient has been evaluated by a physical therapist (p < 0.001). In addition, PT students decreased their concern regarding differences in financial compensation (p = 0.001) and job security (p = 0.018) in the context of utilizing PTA’s. After the event, PT students were less confident that PTA’s could perform as a primary care provider (p = 0.002) and felt that patients would progress faster if treated by a PT compared to a PTA (p = 0.001). PTA students did not report any changes in their attitudes or perceptions of PTs after the event. Conclusions/Relevance to the conference theme: These results suggest that a half-day intra-professional education event can enhance PT student’s perceptions and attitudes about PTA’s across several domains. The event did not change the attitudes or perceptions of PTA students regarding PT’s. We hypothesize that PTA students have a better understanding of working with PT’s, as that is the nature of their profession. This event highlighted the important of accurate and timely communication, problem solving, and shared goals with respect to patient outcomes. Students gained mutual respect for each other that will carry over to clinical practice. It is anticipated that these events will improve performance outcomes including quality of care, efficiency, patient engagement, and peer engagement. Additionally, improved relational coordination will improve clinical outcomes, decrease lengths of stay, improve patient and staff satisfaction, and increase staff resilience.