By Eve Lee, MBA, CAE, Executive Director, American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association
Currently, the Veterans’ Administration (VA) serves more than 90,000 Veterans who have lost limbs and performs more than 12,000 amputation surgeries annually. Additionally, although the number of Veterans with significant, chronic limb impairment is unclear, it is unquestionably large. While there are new technologies and devices available to treat these individuals and help improve the quality of their lives, use of these devices requires more sophisticated, advanced training on the part of clinicians.
Orthotists and prosthetists are required to have, at a minimum, a master’s degree from an O&P-accredited institution and complete a residency program. A 2015 study commissioned by the National Commission on Orthotics and Prosthetics Education (NCOPE) found that in 2014 there were 6,675 licensed and/or certified orthotists and prosthetists in the United States and concluded that, by 2025, “the overall supply of credentialed O&P providers would need to increase by about 60% to meet the growing demand.” Fewer than 250 clinicians combined will graduate this year from the 13 schools with accredited O&P programs, one of which graduated its last class (see ”Wounded Warrior Workforce Enhancement Legislation Introduced as Georgia Tech Deactivates MSPO Program,” page 43). On top of this, a significant percentage of our nation’s trained and experienced O&P clinicians are eligible to retire in the next 10 years. When combined, these elements result in a dire shortage in the number of O&P clinicians needed to care for our aging population and Veterans.
At present, O&P programs are not high profile enough, and do not generate enough revenue, for universities to build out a sufficient number of master’s programs to meet the current and future patient demand. The Wounded Warrior Workforce Enhancement Act (WWWEA) (H.R. 2487 in the House of Representatives and S. 1315 in the Senate), introduced earlier this year, would authorize five million dollars per year for three years to provide limited, one-time competitive grants to qualified universities to create or expand accredited advanced education programs in prosthetics and orthotics. Priority will be given to programs partnering with the VA or Department of Defense facilities, including opportunities for clinical training, to ensure that students become familiar with and can respond to the unique needs of service members and Veterans with limb loss or limb impairment.
If this legislation were to pass it would take the burden off the current O&P providers by infusing the profession with the additional workforce needed now and in the future. With the workforce increase comes the ability to provide more effective, quality treatment to patients in the VA, Medicare, and Medicaid, ultimately resulting in fewer co-morbidities. It has also been demonstrated that with proper and prompt access to O&P care overall health costs are lower.1
To say this cost-effective legislation is a win-win for both patients and the profession would be an understatement. We need an adequate workforce to meet the needs of Veterans living with limb loss and limb impairment. The WWWEA helps do this.
Eve Lee, MBA, CAE, is Executive Director of the American Orthotic and Prosthetic Association. Founded in 1917, AOPA is the largest non-profit organization dedicated to helping orthotic and prosthetic (O&P) businesses and professionals navigate the multitude of issues surrounding the delivery of quality patient care. With more than 2,000 member locations and headquarters in Alexandria, Virginia, AOPA serves the O&P profession with advocacy on Capitol Hill, premier publications, high-quality coding products, expert reimbursement guidance and a full slate of education programming on O&P-specific issues.
Dobson A, Murray K, Manolov N, DaVanzo JE. Economic value of orthotic and prosthetic services among medicare beneficiaries: a claims-based retrospective cohort study, 2011–2014. J Neuroeng Rehabil. 2018; 15(Suppl 1): 55.