Send to

Choose Destination
Disabil Rehabil. 2015;37(21):1955-60. doi: 10.3109/09638288.2014.991454. Epub 2015 Jul 25.

What is rehabilitation potential? Development of a theoretical model through the accounts of healthcare professionals working in stroke rehabilitation services.

Author information

a School of Healthcare Sciences, Bangor University , Bangor , Gwynedd , UK .



Multi-disciplinary team members predict each patient's rehabilitation potential to maximise best use of resources. A lack of underpinning theory about rehabilitation potential makes it difficult to apply this concept in clinical practice. This study theorises about rehabilitation potential drawing on everyday decision-making by Health Care Professionals (HCPs) working in stroke rehabilitation services.


A clinical scenario, checked for face validity, was used in two focus groups to explore meaning and practice around rehabilitation potential. Participants were 12 HCPs working across the stroke pathway. Groups were co-facilitated, audio-recorded and fully transcribed. Analysis paid attention to data grounded in first-hand experience, convergence within and across groups and constructed a conceptual overview of HCPs' judgements about rehabilitation potential.


Rehabilitation potential is predicted by observations of "carry-over" and functional gain and managed differently across recovery trajectories. HCPs' responses to rehabilitation potential judgements include prioritising workload, working around the system and balancing optimism and realism. Impacts for patients are streaming of rehabilitation intensity, rationing access to rehabilitation and a shifting emphasis between management and active rehabilitation. For staff, the emotional burden of judging rehabilitation potential is significant. Current service organisation restricts opportunities for feedback on the accuracy of previous judgements.


Patients should have the opportunity to demonstrate rehabilitation potential by participation in therapy. As therapy resources are limited and responses to therapy may be context-dependent, early decisions about a lack of potential should not limit longer-term opportunities for rehabilitation. Services should develop strategies to enhance the quality of judgements through feedback to HCPs of longer-term patient outcomes. Implications for Rehabilitation Rehabilitation potential is judged at the level of individual patients (rather than population-based predictive models of rehabilitation outcome), draws on different sources of often experiential knowledge, and may be less than reliable. Decisions about rehabilitation potential may have far reaching consequences for individual patients, including the withdrawal of active rehabilitation in hospital or in the community and eventual care placement. A better understanding of what people mean by rehabilitation potential by all team members, and by patients and carers, may improve the quality of joint decision making and communication.


Clinical judgement; decision-making; qualitative; rehabilitation potential; resource allocation; stroke rehabilitation

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Taylor & Francis Icon for White Rose Research Online
Loading ...
Support Center