Date February 5, 2015

New Center To Increase Physical Therapy Research

With a new five-year, $2.5-million grant from the Foundation for Physical Therapy, Brown University will lead a multi-institution center to train physical therapy health services researchers and to seed new studies.

The Foundation for Physical Therapy has awarded Brown University a $2.5-million, five-year grant for a new center  of excellence to spur research in the field.  In the Center on Health Services Training and Research (CoHSTAR), Brown, Boston University, and the University of Pittsburgh will train researchers and seed new studies to build the  evidence base for physical therapy care and to improve  how care is delivered.

“Physical therapists are integral parts of the health care system,” said CoHSTAR director Linda Resnik, a physical therapist, associate professor of health services, policy and practice in the Brown University School of Public Health, and a research career scientist at the Providence VA Medical Center. “Every day there are 750,000 people who see a physical therapist. There’s great clinical research that goes on, but there have been very few physical therapist researchers with the skills to conduct health services research. Because of that we are lacking the kind of evidence that we need to inform improvements in health service delivery and policy.”

The center will focus on three areas of research: rehabilitation outcomes measurement, implementation science and quality assurance, and analysis of large datasets. CoHSTAR’s faculty members will expand the capacity for research in these areas by training, nine postdoctoral students and five to six visiting scientists during its five years of funding. Those programs will begin this summer and fall.

There’s great clinical research that goes on, but there have been very few physical therapist researchers with the skills to conduct health services research.

Linda Resnik Associate professor of health services, policy and practice

Other programs will include curriculum development and annual summer institutes and webcasts, led by Boston University, to reach many more physical therapy scholars. Although the center grant was announced this week at  the combined sections meeting of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) in Indianapolis, work is already underway.

“We are beginning recruitment immediately for our first cohort of trainees,” said Resnik, a physical therapist who came to Brown in 2002 as a postdoctoral trainee in health services research. “We plan to be reviewing applications as soon as possible.”

In addition, CoHSTAR has already selected the first three research projects to earn seed grants, to be administered by the University of Pittsburgh. One will examine the effect on care and costs of physical therapy being the first point of care — rather than, for instance the primary care doctor or chiropractor — for people with lower back pain. A second will seek to develop a linking of measures for tracking patient functioning through the many settings of post-acute care, such as inpatient rehabilitation, nursing home, and then home. The third will accelerate the development and testing of a pilot registry for management of knee pain.

Resnik said she is pleased to lead a multi-institution team in creating more opportunities for people to study physical therapy services and policy.

I have had the opportunity to be in this kind of training environment and to launch my career in this area, but I’ve been one amongst a very small number of physical therapist health services researchers,” she said. “Health services research has never been more important than in this era of health care reform as the United States tries to determine how to provide its citizens with the best quality care and the best value of care. As the call for others to enter the field has grown louder and louder there really have been limited opportunities for physical therapist training.”

Funding for the foundation’s grant came from the APTA and from dozens of physical therapists, foundations, and corporations.