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Pitt Physical Therapy, Health Policy Institute Key to Novel, National Research-Training Initiative

PITTSBURGH, Feb. 5, 2015 – With the first-ever grant to train future researchers and scientists in the physical therapy field, the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, and Pitt Health Policy Institute will partner with Brown and Boston universities on a five-year, $2.5 million program that, at Pitt, will focus on generating pilot studies.
 
The Foundation of Physical Therapy, in an announcement made this afternoon to coincide with the American Physical Therapy Association convention in Indianapolis, Ind., awarded the grant to Brown to establish the Center on Health Services Training and Research. CoHSTAR will offer multi-institutional research and a built-in training program where each university will focus on specific areas of health services: Brown on large database analysis, Boston on outcome measurement, and Pitt on quality assurance and implementation.
 
Pitt’s Tony Delitto, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Physical Therapy in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences (SHRS), and professor Kelley Fitzgerald, Ph.D., will serve as co-directors overseeing the Pilot Studies Core. There are three funded pilot studies expected to start as soon as this summer, and Drs. Delitto and Fitzgerald said they plan to fund three new pilot projects each of the remaining four years of the grant, earmarking them at a base funding of $100,000 total per year. The amount of funding Pitt receives will vary according to their number of fellows, trainees and projects.  
 
“Funding for these pilot studies is critically important to develop researchers whose evidence will inform policymaking to support new, more effective and patient-centered models of healthcare delivery. The partnership established by the Foundation of Physical Therapy is a structure that will ultimately speed innovation and dissemination of research findings,” said Everette James, J.D., M.B.A., director of Pitt’s Health Policy Institute. Faculty from the institute will serve as co-investigators and consultants on the Pilot Studies projects.
 
Dr. Delitto added that the Affordable Care Act makes research and subsequent long-term policy perspectives even more vital to the field: “Physical therapy is like a lot of other health professions – the training in health services research has lagged. With health reform, everyone sees the value of health-services research. We’ve demonstrated that we can do this kind of work and carry it through to health policy. The path is there. Pitt across its campus has a reputation for that, and so does Brown and Boston universities, which makes for good synergy.”

Three pilot programs will be launched this summer, with one headquartered at Pitt:

  • James Irrgang, Ph.D., with Dr. Fitzgerald among his co-investigators, will develop and pilot test a nationwide registry of patients receiving care for non-operative knee pain. Such a database could affect trials, research, care and insurance policymaking. 
  •  Julie Fritz, who earned her Ph.D. at Pitt under Dr. Delitto in 1998 and conducted research at SHRS, will be the principal investigator on a study at the University of Utah to examine if physical therapy should become the first point of care for patients with lower-back pain.
  • Christine McDonough, Ph.D., of Boston will direct a study to attempt to find statistical methods for functional assessment to better evaluate Medicare post-acute care and physical therapy.

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