What are outcome measures and how are they currently used in physical therapy?

The motto ‘Measuring is Knowing’ is ubiquitous within science and technology. A clear and unambiguous picture of a certain
condition can best be obtained by presenting this condition objectively and quantitatively. But how does this principle translate to the medical world – and more specifically – the field of physical therapy?

The quantification of human functioning can be done in different ways. For example, the body temperature of an individual is measured with a thermometer and the heart rate with a heart rate monitor. But as a therapist, how can we evaluate complex functions such as a patient’s balance, body coordination or fine-motor skills? Within the field of physical therapy functional outcome measures are used for this purpose. Outcome measures are defined as scales and studies that measure the change in function, activities and participation – in accordance with the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) – of an individual throughout the intervention [1,2].

Objective outcome measures

The most common forms of outcome measures can be divided into two categories:

  • Performance-based measures: The patient has to perform a set of movements or tasks. Scores on these measures can consist of objective measurements (such as the time the patient needs to complete a task) or by assigning a specific score to the qualitative execution of an exercise.

  • Questionnaires: In doing so, the patient, therapist or a third party must provide answers to a collection of questions. In such surveys, scores are usually given to the respondent’s answers based on a fixed scoring system.

They offer the therapist and care user the following possibilities [4]:

  • Quantifying observations

  • Systematic comparison of the patient’s status throughout the therapy based on the different measurement moments

  • Clarifying the communication on the follow-up of the care user between different care providers

  • Improve the efficiency of the treatment plan

  • Providing concrete and clear information to the patient.

The use of these outcome measures is therefore an essential contribution when drawing up, following up and adjusting an Evidence-Based treatment plan [2,3]. However, despite the above mentioned benefits that these applications can offer both the therapist and the care user, their systematic and correct implementation in practice still appears to be difficult [5 – 7]. The biggest barriers that therapists themselves indicate for the frequent use of OMs within physical therapy are a lack of knowledge, time, resources and support [8]. Through its online platform Creative Therapy hopes to offer a suitable solution for therapists.

Jorn OckermanPhysiotherapist / Researcher
Jorn does research at Creative Therapy to innovating technologies, like Matti, within rehabilitation therapy.
Arno PendersCEO Creative Therapy
With a past as researcher at Ghent University, Arno likes to share his knowledge about technology within rehabilitation therapy.


  1. World Health Organization (Ed.). (2001). International classification of functioning, disability and health: ICF. World Health Organization
  2. Fetters L, Tilson J. Evidence based physical therapy. FA Davis; 2012 May 5.
  3. O’Sullivan, S. B., Schmitz, T. J., & Fulk, G. D. (2014). Physical rehabilitation (6th ed). F.A. Davis Co.
  4. McDonnell, B., Stillwell, S., Hart, S., & Davis, R. B. (2018). Breaking Down Barriers to the Utilization of Standardized Tests and Outcome Measures in Acute Care Physical Therapist Practice: An Observational Longitudinal Study. Physical Therapy, 98(6), 528–538.
  5. Duncan, E. A., & Murray, J. (2012). The barriers and facilitators to routine outcome measurement by allied health professionals in practice: A systematic review. BMC Health Services Research, 12(1), 96
  6. Braun, T., Rieckmann, A., Weber, F., & Grüneberg, C. (2018). Current use of measurement instruments by physiotherapists working in Germany: A cross-sectional online survey. BMC Health Services Research, 18(1), 810.
  7. Jette, D. U., Halbert, J., Iverson, C., Miceli, E., & Shah, P. (2009). Use of Standardized Outcome Measures in Physical Therapist Practice: Perceptions and Applications. Physical Therapy, 89(2), 125–135.
  8. Swinkels, R. A., van Peppen, R. P., Wittink, H., Custers, J. W., & Beurskens, A. J. (2011). Current use and barriers and facilitators for implementation of standardised measures in physical therapy in the Netherlands. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders12(1), 106.