Total physical therapy is undergoing a rapid change and the COVID-19 pandemic has only expedited that change. With advances in medical technology, innovative new therapy methods, and changing business practices, physical therapists must be prepared to see what change has in store for their practice.
The future of physical therapy is looking bright as more and more individuals are becoming aware of the benefits that this type of treatment has to offer. Every day, new physical therapy approaches are being explored and developed, from posture exercises to therapeutic massage techniques to soothe sore muscles after workouts. Furthermore, cutting-edge technologies like virtual reality and wearable sensors are also helping to revolutionize how we think about and treat injuries. Ultimately, it seems clear that the field of physical therapy will continue to evolve in exciting new ways over the coming years, offering patients new and improved opportunities for healing their bodies and improving their health overall.
Though these innovations will enhance the physical therapy field as a whole, it’s important to remember that physical therapists cannot lose the empathetic component of their core business principles. Recovering patients must, above all, trust their physician throughout the rehabilitation process, and that trust can only be built by making a human connection.
Impending pay cuts from Medicare services and changes caused by the pandemic will change what practices rely on for their revenue stream. PTs must search for new ways to generate income. One popular method so far is through cash-based methods that aren’t reliant on physician referrals. This method avoids affecting the existing cash flow structure.
Many organizations were already doing this before the pandemic. However, the pandemic made it abundantly clear that physical therapy providers needed to continue this trend. A particular example of the effects of the pandemic can be seen in the postponement of elective surgeries from this past spring and winter, hindering practices that support a high volume of post-op patients.
Creative Cost Reduction Techniques
Because practices were forced to adapt to the changing conditions that COVID-19 caused, they will continue to re-evaluate their cost profile in the future. In the wake of cost cuts, organizations must learn how to stretch their budgets. One of the ways these organizations pivoted was to adjust their operational strategies and structures. Some of the minor adjustments that led to major cost benefits include:
- Changing scheduling practices.
- Alternative/shared-risk employee compensation models to reduce labor costs.
- Re-evaluating tech stacks to consolidate vendors and eliminate unnecessary tools.
- Incorporating more telehealth practices.
More Cooperation Among Therapy Providers
Remaining independent won’t be impossible for physical therapists in the future. However, mergers and acquisitions will continue to increase, and more importantly, the pandemic has spotlighted the need for organizations to look inward for referral marketing strategies. Specializing in innovative therapeutic techniques will help generate referrals from other physical therapy organizations.
Prioritization of Mental Health
Physical injuries take a mental toll and you would be hard-pressed to find someone in physical therapy who doesn’t get mentally affected by its challenges. In the future, though physical therapists aren’t psychologists, they will have a larger role in improving their patients’ emotional well-being. More in-depth motivational training and understanding how to approach patients who struggle with anxiety and depression will separate physical therapists from their competition.
Data Will Continue to be King
Big data will continue to infiltrate the medical world as it provides more value and more and more people learn how to generate and interpret the data. Big data will streamline strategies, processes, and operations, minimizing financial waste. All of these improvements make efficiency and productivity more attainable and repeatable. The only way for businesses to respond to Medicare pay cuts is to slim their operations.
Telehealth Will Get More Attention
Telehealth isn’t just a product of the pandemic. As things return to a more normalized version after the pandemic, physical therapists should note the benefits of telehealth. For example, telehealth gives physicians more access to their patients. With telehealth capabilities, physicians can monitor their patients more closely.
Aquatic therapy facilitates healing without causing further damage in a way that higher-impact exercises can’t. Aquatic health can make a substantial difference in the initial recovery for patients who undergo knee and hip replacements. In addition to its controlled environment, aquatic therapy also has natural resistance, strengthening muscles and joints.
Smartwatches and fitness trackers are no longer bound to the science-fiction realm. Like big data, wearable technology will make it easier for patients to track their progress, construct goals, and stay on track when outside the physician’s office.
Laser beam therapy or low-level laser therapy has been around in conventional physical rehab for over a decade. However, now that the research is further established, proving its efficacy in healing internal damage, chronic pain, and even hair loss, you will start to see more and more physicians adopt this technology. Laser therapy also has research supporting its effects on stroke, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, and degenerative CNS disorders.
Light Therapy LEDs
LED light therapies are being used to treat many of the same conditions and injuries as laser beams. Light therapy LEDs have a broader spectrum of light wavelengths compared to lasers. These lasers are less likely to cause burns and some infrared lights can also heal minor pains. In the future, you should expect to see light therapy LEDs researched more extensively and adopted more widely across physical therapy organizations.
In the old days, treating a paraplegic required a therapist to crawl on the floor while moving the patient’s legs with their hands. Automation will eliminate the need for such extensive measures. Through automation, we can achieve biological therapies more efficiently and precisely. The use of exoskeletons will also make the rehab process more streamlined and effective.
Conclusion- The Future of Physical Therapy
With burgeoning technology and the pandemic forcing physical therapy practices to rethink their current business model, we stand to see a significant change in the physical therapy field over the next ten years.
However, one of the elements that can’t be overlooked is the need for patients to connect with human beings throughout the therapy process. Yes, we can implement more telehealth practices and employ robots to aid rehabilitation, but they can’t replace the service element of physical therapy. People see their physical therapists, in large part, to share some of the psychological burdens that surgery or a serious injury poses. This element of physical therapy cannot be overlooked as we progress into more advanced technologies.