Kevin Platt, CPHQ, FACHE, knew he wanted to be a physical therapist while still in high school. Learning about the profession from a family member, Kevin pursued education in the field and eventually earned his doctorate in physical therapy. Today, Kevin is the corporate director of patient safety and high reliability in the quality management department of the University of Maryland Medical System. He is a colleague whose career journey intrigues me. While his path to becoming a healthcare quality leader is not traditional, it makes perfect sense. Patient safety is both a foundation and a goal of quality care.

Kevin’s first paid position as a physical therapist was in Honolulu. He worked primarily with brain injured patients, but soon began to take on leadership roles. The duality of providing direct patient care while also serving his colleagues became a theme in Kevin’s career. Through his experience serving patients in a variety of care settings, Kevin gained a 30,000-foot view of the healthcare system in the United States. This motivated him to get involved in the business of healthcare. He reflected, “I was a traveling therapist for several years and during that time I was intrigued by how physical therapy was delivered in different care settings – from home care to hospital care to skilled nursing. There were also regional differences. When managed care was coming into its own on the West Coast, it was in its infancy on the East Coast.”

In 1997, Congress enacted legislation that changed the way therapy services were reimbursed. As a result, Kevin decided he needed to broaden his career path. He went back to school to earn his MBA and “learn the business language of healthcare.” His MBA helped to qualify him for rehabilitation departmental leadership and eventually lead him to administrative positions related to patient safety and healthcare quality.

Inspired by a well-respected consultant, Kevin decided to pursue his CPHQ. He wanted to both set an example and continue to strengthen his healthcare leadership credentials while serving as an administrative director of rehabilitation for MedStar Health. At the time, Kevin felt himself gravitating towards healthcare quality as his organization was starting to practice the principles of a high reliability organization. Kevin explained: “Operating in a high-risk environment, we were working to achieve fewer errors and fewer injuries. We were at the beginning of this work, and I know I needed my CPHQ to ensure I was at the top of my game leading this effort.”

Just like patient safety is both a means and an end, so too is the CPHQ as Kevin’s experience proves out. “I very quickly benefited from the educational content when studying for my CPHQ because I was making the transition from a rehabilitation hospital administrator to a patient safety professional,” he said. “Later, my CPHQ opened doors for me because it demonstrates my commitment to this knowledge base.” Kevin even sees great benefit in actively maintaining his CPHQ: “I keep up to date with my continuing education. I see it as an opportunity to grow in my profession. Because of the variety and types of CEUs that qualify for CPHQ maintenance, I can always find educational support for something I am working on.”

When I asked Kevin about the challenges and opportunities he sees in today’s healthcare environment, Kevin quickly expressed concern about staff turnover and difficulty filling open positions. “When a high functioning clinician is burned out or decides it is the right time to retire, it introduces some level of risk as new staff acclimate,” he added. “The new staff may not come from a culture of safety and quality. They may have been in a punitive environment making them hesitant to report events. It takes time to adjust to a new culture and learn new policies. While we were making substantial progress before the pandemic and related healthcare crisis, today we are seeing patient falls, pressure sores, and hospital acquired infections creep up.”

Still, Kevin remains optimistic about the future of healthcare and embraces the opportunity to bring other physical therapists to the discipline of healthcare quality: “I am always reminding my PT colleagues to get involved in patient safety whatever their role or practice setting. Whether they are providing direct patient care or communicating observations, physical therapists can play a key role in helping care team members reduce falls, practice safe lifting, prevent workplace violence, and even improve throughput in the emergency department.”

Physical therapists as patient safety and healthcare leaders – as Kevin’s experience proves, it just makes sense.

Emmett T. Ervin, MPA, CPHQ
NAHQ President

Latest News