July 15, 2021 | Net Health

4 min read

How to Address Productivity and Staffing Challenges in Acute Care Therapy

Even before COVID-19 brought unprecedented demand for acute care therapy teams, managing therapist productivity and staffing was a major challenge for rehab directors and managers. In a recent Net Health poll of more than 200 hospital rehab leaders and acute care rehab therapists, 41% of participants reported that maintaining high therapist productivity is the greatest challenge in managing acute care therapy staffing.

Free Resource: Use the Therapist Productivity Calculator

Another 30% cited adjusting staffing levels as their main issue, while 21% reported that daily patient allocation and orders management posed the greatest stress. 

Across the board, acute care therapists are facing numerous obstacles while trying to get back to their pre-COVID workflows. In a recent Net Health webinar, titled Dynamic Staffing and Therapist Productivity in Acute Care Therapy, three hospital therapy directors sat down to explain how their staff is confidently tackling these challenges. 

1. Prioritize Post Op Patients

Efficient throughput of same-day surgery patients requires planning and organization.  With the standard of care being evaluation and treatment of total hips and knees within hours post-surgery, these patients trump the needs of most other patients.

Review the surgical schedule ahead of time to ensure sufficient coverage while also projecting the needs of non-surgical patients. Tagging therapists to work in pairs allows OTs and PTs to co-treat and facilitates communication to secure a consistent discharge plan. Rotating the responsibility of surgical patients introduces variety while also maintaining skillsets across diagnoses.

2. Cross-Train for Flexible Care Delivery

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought with it new challenges for acute care rehab teams, as well as a set of new roles. Especially among smaller facilities, acute care therapists rapidly became part of the screening teams in hospitals and ERs, manning the front entrance as well as their respective wings.

To maintain high productivity and navigate unpredictable staff changes, hospital directors may consider cross-training therapists to deliver care across settings.

“We cross-train a lot of our therapists in at least two different areas,” explains Walter Merchan, Therapy Services Director at HCA Houston Healthcare Southeast.¹ “We have an outpatient clinic, inpatient rehab unit, and acute center. Once we see therapists who are confident in one area, we start cross-training them in a different area. So, if our census is low in one area, they cross over to different areas.”

3. Communicate Needs and Expectations

The rapid pace and rate of patient turnover in acute care demand clear and effective communication across the healthcare team, including patients and caregivers. Patients are empowered and motivated towards discharge once conditions of release are understood.

“The key is communication between your therapist and the providers to know what the need is and what the necessity is of that patient,” agrees Jeff Tanner, Executive Director of the Roane General Hospital Center for Wellness.² “We want to try to push [the patients] a little bit because we’re trying to expect that individual to potentially go home and be able to perform well.”

4. Rely on Reports to Indicate Staffing Needs

Data analysis provides the key to making the most accurate projections regarding immediate and future staffing needs. A review of key data points can help determine the patient/staff ratio needed to deliver high-quality care with the leanest staffing level.

Analyzing hospital admission data to identify seasonal trends may be as important as knowing tomorrow’s projected caseload based on recommended treatment frequency. Tracking compliance with hospital policies regarding time from order to evaluation to documentation can also provide insight into how clinicians are managing the current workload.

5. Leverage an Acute Care EHR

Inefficient documentation workflows and patient/therapist management can drastically sideline productivity and magnify any existing staffing challenges in acute care settings. The utilization of multiple documentation platforms is one example of how workflows can slow operations.

When information is not cohesively organized, it prevents case managers, physicians, and therapists from sharing crucial patient information quickly and easily.

In comparison, an integrated EHR system designed for acute care eliminates the need to copy, print, or scan notes into multiple platforms. Instead, all care providers can quickly locate PT, OT, and SLP documentation in a single, highly accessible system.

Learn how Net Health Therapy for Acute Care streamlines patient and therapist management for your rehab department.

Address Productivity and Staffing Challenges Today 

Nearly half of acute care rehab teams have struggled with productivity and staffing in recent months. If you’ve been experiencing difficulty while trying to get back to pre-COVID efficiency levels, rest assured you’re not alone. View our on-demand webinar, Dynamic Staffing and Therapist Productivity in Acute Care Therapy, for more insights on how to navigate these obstacles.

Dynamic Staffing and Therapist Productivity in Acute Care Therapy

Panel Discussion with Hospital Directors of Rehab


¹, ² Net Health, “Dynamic Staffing and Therapist Productivity in Acute Care Setting” [webinar], June 24, 2021.

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