Thoughts on “productivity”

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There has been a recent discussion on the geriatrics listerv about productivity (and a recent PT in Motion article about productivity), but you can probably read it anywhere on any discussion forum for rehab professionals – productivity requirements continue to rise, and it is making professionals frustrated. I said in a tweet it makes me sad, angry, and a little scared for our profession. I want to write a bit more on that.

First, how productivity is calculated: I work in a facility that calculates productivity based on minutes billed divided by hours present per day, minus any CEU time (if it takes me 30 minutes or 90 minutes for an eval, I bill 30 minutes or 90 minutes – I would take issue with some place that only allows me to bill or account 45 minutes for an eval if it takes me 60 from a professional perspective).  In my career I’ve worked in 3 SNF/TCU facilities where I’ve done sub-acute/ OP/ LTC, and interned in one other, and have had multiple friends and colleagues who have worked in similar facilities, mostly for the major companies, and the only way I have encountered productivity billing is the way I described above.  I can tell you that productivity demands that I have seen, experienced, and heard of take into account the hours paid that you worked, not your vacation time, CEU, etc, and it ranges from 65% to 92%.  If anyone else has had a different experience in how productivity is calculated they can comment on that and the impact on them; again, I want to comment on what I’ve seen and experienced.
Why it makes me sad:

Productivity is often what we are judged by, and it is often all about the money, not about the patient or outcomes. I understand this is a business (see my previous posts about the WSJ article on “copious therapy”). But seriously, productivity of 94%? To me, that sounds like a company looking at a bottom line with such a myopic view (for shareholders?) that they don’t see what they are doing to their staff.

Why it makes me angry:

What to fit in the minutes left over in the day: Using the productivity calculation above, in working an 8 hour day, if you factor our your LEGAL two 15 minute breaks (who really takes those?), and you DON’T document on your lunch, and you don’t overlap patients (which you can do with commercial insurance, but not Medicare): at 65% you have 138 minutes left, at 70% you have 114, at 75% you have 90, at 80% you have 42, at 90% you have 48, at 92% you have 8 minutes.  In those remaining minutes, you need to get ready for the day, go between patients (hopefully your patients aren’t spread out in a large facility), document to facility and payor expectations (or at least complete what you didn’t do during point of service documentation), return phone calls, respond to emails, talk to families who stop you in the hallway, talk to other disciplines you work alongside, breathe, and wrap up for the day (bathroom and water breaks are covered during your personal breaks).  I forgot to mention staff meetings (which may be factored out for efficiency, but not productivity), supervising PTA’s and co-signing their notes, waiting for nursing to give meds or finish toileting or dressing, finding patients unavailable due to an MD/NP seeing the patient, the patient refusing for a variety of reasons, the patient being out of the facility, finding OT or SLP has your patient, and answering the occasional call light, and I’m sure there is more that I’m not thinking of at the moment, all while trying to keep your focus on service, patient satisfaction, and good working relationships and not allowing your productivity requirements become the focus and becoming self-centered/ serving.

Would I rather have 138 minutes to do all that, or 8 minutes?  Some companies use transporters, which helps.  There are questionable suggestions/ recommendations I’ve heard that give me pause in even considering working for a national company that requires the higher levels of productivity.  And if a therapist can’t achieve those levels, their options would to: a) be fired, b) document off the clock, or c) try to find a company more in line with their views (my boss and her boss will probably read this – Brenda and Amy I love our company, have no issues, have no intention of leaving, and welcome a discussion on how to improve my productivity!).

Why it makes me scared:

We have done this to ourselves, and I see no end in sight. We as therapists have valued and needed a paycheck, and not stood up and said enough is enough. And for those that have said enough, someone has always been willing to come behind and take the job (at less pay such as a new grad with their student loans coming due).

What can we do?

For the benefit of therapists and our profession:

  • Refuse to document off the clock.
  • Do not work for companies with productivity standards that are so high that we document off the clock or be unethical in practice. I personally have limited who I work for to companies that put people before profit (people being patients and staff), while still encouraging their therapists to ethically do and be their best. For students interested in geriatrics, I don’t give company names that I won’t work for, but I offer suggestions of what to look for and questions to ask any employer.

HOWEVER!  As altruistic as we want to be, healthcare is a business.  Whether big business and answering to shareholders (ala RehabCare/Kindred) or a non-profit, you can’t run in the red.  We as professionals need to determine (and stand up for) what is ethical, but also be aware that this is a business; companies, it may help to show us the business numbers for better understanding and buy-in.  We need to ethically (and legally) be as productive as we can.  That may be structuring our day better (not checking/ answering emails except at specific times, seeing patients in a “geographic” sequence to limit getting our 10,000 steps a day by lunchtime, etc), thinking about using a productivity system or framework at work (Getting Things Done, Six Sigma, Kaizan, etc) not having non-work discussions during non-break time, trying point of service documentation as much as we can, giving our employers ideas on how to improve productivity to address roadblocks we encounter, etc.

I wish things were different, and hope things get better for the sake of our patients and our profession.  In the meantime if we are having a difficult time with productivity demands, we need to follow our ethical principles while either working with our employer to see the issues or look for another job that will value us and what we bring to the table, not just the number we generate (and be thankful when we find that job!).

Sorry for the length of my thoughts and opinions – I would be interested to hear other takes on productivity calculations, how to be more productive, ethical considerations in productivity, etc, be it on a listserv, FB, Twitter, or the comments section below.
Photo credit: Productivity by Sean MacEntee

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One response to “Thoughts on “productivity”

  1. Pingback: If you are thinking of working in a SNF/TCU… | PT for Boomers - and beyond

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