Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Clinical practice is Research (and Research is Practice)

Research is the March theme on ~Move It~

Once upon a time, a time long, long ago, when I was only contemplating sitting for my NCS and not counting down the days until I would take the most expensive and difficult test of my life, I registered for a preconference course at the Combined Sections Meeting. The course was entitled "Laying the Foundation for Expert Practice in Neurological PT". A prominent theme of this course was differentiating between "intuitive" and "systematic" processing. We were taught that experts were able to synthesize information intuitively without investing cognitive resources in differentiating between plausible and implausible hypotheses. This ability was thought to improve efficiency and allow an expert to focus on an individual's complaints.

I'll be honest. I found this distinction frustrating in its over simplicity. Experts will inevitably be more efficient in processing information gathered from their patients. (If they weren't, we'd have a problem.) But in the world of Physical Therapy, everything is data collection, every touch, every question. Saying that something is intuitive makes light of the empirical process going on beneath the surface. New grads think in terms of T-tests, whereas experts conduct ANOVA.

So granted, there is a difference in the way information is processed.  But whether it's an expert clinician performing an evaluation or an NP assessing gait, hypothesis testing is the bread and butter of physical therapy.  Anything that obscures this fact contributes to the unfortunate divide between research and practice in our field.

Researchers assess whether or not a particular practice works.  They are "practicing" to see if it works.  Clinicians test hypotheses with every modification to a treatment plan.  Why, then, is there such an inexplicable divide between clinicians and researchers?  My hypothesis: the methodological family tree split too long ago.  The clinical language is different because there hasn't been an IRB looming in the background.  Standardization wasn't required.  But in the context of the emerging health care paradigm, in which comparative effectiveness and clinician scorecards will evolve, a common bench/bedside language will be indispensable.  Our branches must re-form a central trunk.

Where do you see the Clinic and Lab colliding?  And for the future, if we don't strengthen those connections, how will we survive?


No comments:

Post a Comment