Physical Therapy Trends: A Look Back
As the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) concludes the celebration of its centennial year (2021), the physical therapy profession looks back on a dynamic history of change and development in the last 100 years.
By nature, the field is ever-evolving: what began as a small group of technicians trained on the job in post-war hospitals has since expanded into a work force of over 230,000 university educated professionals and more than 280 educational programs offering doctoral-level training for the next generation of clinicians.
As we enter 2022, the PT profession can look forward to continued growth and transformation. Year after year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics continues to project that physical therapy as a profession will grow at a “much faster than average” rate. Continued rapid growth will be accompanied by rapid change in the way physical therapy is practiced and delivered in this country.
The demands of an aging population and the novel challenges imposed by the CoVid-19 pandemic will require physical therapists to adapt and grow their practices in novel ways in the years to come. Let’s consider five key industry trends to watch in the new year:
- Continuing anti-CoVid policies
- The expansion of telehealth services
- Greater implementation of rehabilitation technology
- Cash pay practice growth
- Increasing focus on wellness and preventative care
Cleaner Clinics Post-CoVid
While the healthcare professions have long been concerned with sanitation, the CoVid-19 pandemic has amplified the importance of preventative measures to reduce disease transmission across all settings.
In response to the spread of CoVid-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have highlighted the importance of cleanliness and personal protective equipment (PPE) in outpatient settings. Providers who did not regularly wear gloves, masks, and gowns prior to the start of the pandemic began utilizing them to a greater extent in the last two years.
While adherence to PPE use and infection control measures is rarely perfect even in high-risk settings, the pandemic has made most therapists more conscious of the importance of safety measures like regular hand-washing and consistent sanitation of common equipment.
Clinicians who worked through the pandemic will likely continue to be vigilant about infection control during 2022. As new waves of CoVid-19 continue to impact our communities, these pandemic-born habits can help rehabilitation professionals protect themselves and their patients.
Telehealth: Not Just a Pandemic Stopgap
Elsewhere on the blog, we’ve discussed the expansion of telehealth services in the rehabilitation sphere during 2020 and 2021. Under the pressure of pandemic lockdowns, PTs, OTs, and other rehab providers were forced to overcome their skepticism and embrace the value of telehealth.
Telerehabilitation services can expand the reach of providers, allowing patients in rural and underserved locations to receive more regular care and contact with a therapist. Telehealth also improves access for patients with mobility deficits that can make travel to in-person visits onerous. By reducing travel time and expenses, telehealth can decrease the cost of care for patients.
Patient satisfaction levels are equivalent between telehealth and in-person care in multiple settings. Forward-thinking clinics have seized on these positive metrics to offer more telehealth services, sometimes in a hybrid model that combines in-person visits with remote ones.
On a grander scale, many large employers are looking to new digital health companies to address musculoskeletal pain and physical health among their employees. These companies allow providers to use motion sensor technology and camera-based motion capture to monitor patients remotely and adjust home programs based on the data collected by these systems.
In 2022, Medicare plans to expand coverage for remote monitoring of patients, allowing physical therapists to bill for more digital care services. As remote monitoring technologies become more widely accepted by patients, providers, and insurers, expect to see various novel approaches to telerehabilitation grow and expand.
Technology in Rehabilitation: Here to Stay
As interest and engagement in telerehabilitation grows, the use of rehabilitation technology will, by necessity, grow alongside it. As we discussed above, the digital health sphere is already making use of motion tracking technology to improve clinicians’ abilities to remotely monitor patient performance and progress.
In 2022, expect growing interest in the applications of these novel technologies and others to facilitate the rehabilitative process. Physical therapists can anticipate that virtual reality systems, rehabilitative robotics, interactive apps, and social media will start to play larger roles in their practices and their patients’ lives.
Even in more traditional, in-person clinic settings, therapists are turning to emerging medical technology to streamline and optimize care. Technologies like blood flow restriction systems and force plates, formerly the domain of research laboratories, are becoming more commonplace in outpatient practices.
Perhaps the most promising rehab tool arrives to the clinic in each patient’s pocket: their cell phone. There are now countless smartphone applications designed to improve patient engagement and outcomes, and therapists will do well to embrace them as important tools for their patients’ rehabilitative journeys.
Regardless of the type of rehab tech you decide to include in your practice in 2022, it’s critical to employ it with a person-first, patient-centered approach: the tech should be an adjunct to your clinical expertise and empathetic care, rather than the star of the show. The AC Health app is a prime example of rehab technology with an individualized human touch.
The Continued Growth of Cash Pay Practice
It’s no secret that reimbursement rates for physical and occupational therapy are declining, and clinicians are increasingly strained by higher patient loads and growing administrative loads. Providers are burnt out and fed up the restrictions of the insurance-based model of care.
The changing climate of healthcare has led many providers to abandon the insurance model and strike out into cash pay and concierge practices. In these settings, therapists—rather than insurance companies—have the freedom to define how they will provide the highest level of care to their patients, and patients enjoy more face-to-face time with their therapist.
Some clinics are incorporating cash pay services alongside traditional insurance billing to diversify their sources of revenue and improve satisfaction for patients and providers alike. Regardless of whether you intend to branch out into private pay in your own practice, expect to see more therapists and clinics moving towards this model in the coming years.
If you’re looking to start your own concierge or cash practice in 2022, check out our guide to payment models and the essential checklist for starting a cash practice, and sign up for AC Health today to start delighting your patients from day one.
Health and Wellness: PT in Preventive Care
The general public often views physical therapists strictly as rehabilitative providers—professionals to consult after the fact, once injury or chronic disease have already wreaked havoc on the body. However, PTs have the skills and expertise to contribute equally to prevention and health promotion efforts.
In 2015, the APTA issued a position statement on the roles that physical therapists can play in prevention, wellness, and health promotion. PTs are uniquely suited to provide education, advocacy, and consultation to their communities to promote neuromusculoskeletal health and wellness and aid in chronic disease prevention.
Chronic health conditions like diabetes and heart disease are a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the US and abroad. However, because they are often related to lifestyle factors such as poor dietary habits and physical inactivity, these conditions are preventable in many cases. PTs are well positionedto help their clients and communities change daily habits to prevent the onset of chronic diseases and their sequelae.
In 2022 and the following years, expect to see more and more physical therapists branching out into the health promotion sphere. If you choose to join the wellness wave and begin offering preventative services at your practice, it will allow you to diversify your clinical offerings and your revenue streams. As always, though, be sure to consult your state practice act and review your professional liability insurance coverage before you begin providing new services.
A Year of Change
With these trends and transformations coming to the physical therapy community, there is much to look forward to in 2022. As it has for the past century, the profession will continue to adapt and grow, embracing change and new technologies in order to provide the best quality care to patients.
AC Health is here to help you move forward and keep up with current trends in the New Year: sign up for your free demo of the app today and see how it will help you delight your patients in 2022!