Most Physical Therapy Continuing Education Courses Are Missing The Mark
Nearly all physical therapists have to take continuing education courses each year to update their knowledge and skills and stay up to date on the latest developments in the field. The requirements for continuing education vary from state to state, and it’s up to physical therapists to follow the appropriate regulations to maintain their license in each state. But even though physical therapy continuing education is a requirement to retain one’s license, physical therapists shouldn’t view it merely as an obligation, but as an ongoing learning opportunity that helps them keep up with the evolving landscape and ensure they’re providing the best possible care to patients.
In return, however, physical therapists often expect—and rightfully—that the courses they attend are of high quality and therefore worth their time and money. In particular, considering the importance of evidence-based interventions in physical therapy, all therapists prefer to only participate in continuing education courses that are closely aligned with the latest evidence and clinical guidelines in the field. But despite how important this concept is, not all physical therapy continuing education courses are created equal, as many are not truly evidence based.
Taking stock of the current physical therapy continuing education landscape
Physical therapy researchers questioned the quality of the continuing education offerings and decided to conduct study to investigate this. Their primary goal was to determine what percentage of physical therapy continuing education courses were providing instructions on interventions that were evidence based, which they did by systematically assessing all data on orthopedic and sports physical therapy continuing education courses available in the U.S. in 2020. The main inclusion criterion was that each course provided education about a specific intervention intended to treat a musculoskeletal disorder in adults.
Each of the interventions identified in these courses was then isolated and graded within a hierarchy system. To assess if an intervention was evidence based, it was compared with relevant clinical practice guidelines or a systematic review that supported it with at least moderate level evidence, and if it was in alignment, it was deemed “evidence based.” If a conflict was found between the guidelines and systematic reviews, researchers always favored whichever was the more recent of the two.
From their search, researchers identified 319 courses and included them in the final review. Most courses (78.7%) taught only one type of intervention, while 16.9% of courses taught two types of interventions. Overall, 52.7% of the courses reviewed involved interventions that were not supported by either a clinical practice guideline or systematic review. Furthermore, of the 65.8% of interventions that were not recommended by a clinical practice guideline, very few (20.0%) were supported by a systematic review. The continuing education courses that taught interventions classified as soft skills were the most likely to be supported by evidence (82.9%), while the interventions categorized as modalities were the least likely to be supported by evidence (30.5%).
The finding that one of every two physical therapy continuing education courses provides instructions not supported by the latest evidence should alarm both physical therapists and those who create these types of courses. This trend can have numerous downstream effects, as many physical therapists rely more on continuing education than published research to inform their treatment decisions. Therefore, there is a real possibility that patients may not receive interventions supported by the latest evidence in their course of care, which could prevent them from receiving the greatest benefits from treatment.
At Applied Continuing Education (ACE), it is a core principle that our courses are based on the latest evidence to ensure that participating physical therapists can provide the highest standard of care to their patients. We currently offer two courses (“Weight Management for Rehab Patients: Crucial Skills for PTs and OTs to Help Patients with Weight Management” and “Shoulder Pain and Dysfunction: Effective Therapy for the Treatment of Common Shoulder Disorders,” both of which are built on a strong base of research. For more information, explore the ACE website or contact us at 781-229-8011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.