Earning the ATP

4 Things You Need to Know About RESNA’s New SMS

We interrupt this regularly scheduled column about studying for RESNA’s ATP exam to bring you this major new development: People who hold Assistive Technology Professional (ATP) certification can now sit for a new exam that specifically tests seating & mobility knowledge.

The new Seating & Mobility Specialist (SMS) certification exams began in March and are administered via the same testing centers that currently give the ATP exam.

Beyond that, however, the SMS exam significantly differs from the ATP exam…in ways that could benefit experienced complex rehab providers. Here are four things you need to know about the new exam.

1. It Focuses on Complex Rehab

Anjali Weber, RESNA’s director of certification, explains the SMS this way: “When RESNA originally developed the certification program — and that effort started back in 1994, with the first ATS (supplier) and ATP (practitioner) exams given in 1996 — the intent was always to create a baseline certification across which all people working in assistive technology could talk with a common language and basic understanding. The ATP and ATS exams were intended to fulfill a need for certification in assistive technology, but it was across broad areas of practice: for seating & mobility, but also augmentative & alternative communication, computer access, environmental controls, legislation, ethics, all the different governing areas of practice. And the intent back then was always to have this as a core certification and then develop specialty certifications as they might be needed.

“So the intent was to further distinguish different applications within assistive technology. We have passed a milestone in terms of numbers of ATPs, and we recognized that though the largest group of ATPs practice in the area of seating and mobility, that the ATP does not distinguish those with advanced seating and mobility knowledge. It was time to now go back to the original intent and really recognize who was the specialist and in what area so that somebody who was trying to find a provider that really provided services in that area would be able to do so.”

Weber says the exam is “really intended to be for the practitioner (clinician and supplier) who works with the complex rehab client and knows seating, does custom mobility, understands electronics, understands disease progression.”

ATPs who pass the SMS exam will earn the certification “ATP/SMS.”

2. SMS Exam Content Can’t Just Be Learned by Reading Books

Our ATP exam mentors have strongly recommended several excellent assistive technology books, and they also appear on the SMS resources list. But while the ATP exam is a standardized, multiple-choice test, the SMS exam’s presentation is somewhat different.

“The intent with creating this test was to not have a test that, without experience, you could ‘book-study’ for,” Weber says. “Seating & mobility requires hands-on experience and teamwork. The test is set up to be very analysis oriented. It’s designed to present a scenario, and you synthesize the information and come up with your conclusion.”

The SMS exam contains 165 multiple-choice questions and incorporates videos and photos. And while the ATP exam was designed to cover a number of assistive technology segments that seating & mobility providers might not work with regularly — such as alternative & augmentative communication — the SMS exam is exclusively about seating, positioning and mobility.

While Weber says the SMS exam is not “easier” than the ATP exam, she says that for the seating & mobility professional, it’s probably “a much more relevant exam for those working with rehab clients. It’s material they’re used to working with on a daily basis if they do provide these complex services.”

3. It’s Designed to Distinguish the Seating & Mobility Specialist from the DME Supplier

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) have already incorporated ATP certification into complex rehab provision; how might SMS certification eventually be employed?

RESNA doesn’t yet know, of course, but the folks in charge of developing the SMS certification certainly are aware of the possibilities.

“We’re looking at this as a way to draw the line so if a separate benefit category for complex rehab does exist, this can be one way of identifying providers,” Weber explains. “It can be one of multiple criteria by which somebody can provide (complex rehab) equipment.”

The RESNA-provided content outline for the SMS exam clearly expects the candidate to have significant experience with customized seating solutions. Topics covered by the exam include Performance of Seating & Mobility Assessment; Funding Resources; Coverage & Payment; Implementation of Intervention; Outcome Assessment & Follow-Up; and Professional Behavior.

For instance, in the Assessment module, subtopics include “Assimilates relevant information from the medical record, interviews with consumer/ caregiver and other team members to identify needs and goals, e.g., ventilator/ respiration needs” and “Performs or assists in a physical assessment, determining current seating posture, muscle tone and strength, joint/ muscle fl exibility, etc.”

In other words, this test is not about off-the-shelf, one-size-fits-many client evaluations or technology.

Says Weber, “I think there’s concern for there to be identification of people who really specialize in this area of practice, because there are people who can say, ‘Well, the ATP is not required to provide certain equipment, so we certainly can still provide Group 1 and basic Group 2 chairs to Medicare.’” The big concern is that people needing and deserving more sophisticated interventions will be given lesser product because certification may not be required.”

It’s too early to tell if CMS or other payors will eventually adopt SMS certification as a complex rehab provision requirement — there would be serious consumer access issues until enough ATPs attain the SMS certification, for instance. But given the current use of the ATP designation, the possibility does exist down the road.

And the only way to attain the SMS certification is by passing the exam. There’s no exemption given for years of tenure, educational degrees, etc.

“Our hope,” Weber says of the SMS designation, “is that it distinguishes a line between a basic DME provider and your complex rehab provider.”

4. Where to Get More Information

The new resna.org Web site is the best place to get started if you want to know more about the SMS exam. Click on Certification, then Becoming Certified. The SMS section includes three downloadable pdfs, including the exam content outline, application/ instructions and all-important references for study.

Pay special attention to that exam content outline, because Weber says, “Every item on the exam maps to one of those outlined items.” She adds that RESNA will be closely monitoring the first batches of exams and seeking feedback from test-takers to ensure the SMS exam is working well.

Read over the materials and decide if you’d like to take your RESNA certification a step further. As Weber explains, “The ATP came to mean more to people than what the ATP (certification itself) suggested. Certainly, we have people who work in seating & mobility and felt the ATP distinguished them as such, but the test itself was not designed to distinguish what your specialty area was within assistive technology.”

And now, it no longer has to. Because the SMS designation has arrived.

This article originally appeared in the April 2010 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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