If you’ve heard it once, you’ll hear it again: The events of 2020 totally changed the rehab therapy industry—and the healthcare industry at large. Clinics totally revamped their approach to patient care and business strategy, all in a bid to weather the storm and emerge into calmer waters. And calmer waters have (mostly!) arrived, meaning it’s a good time to look back and evaluate where the industry was previously—and where it’s going. To that end, Heidi Jannenga, PT, DPT, ATC, WebPT Co-Founder and Chief Clinical Officer, and Shawn McKee, WebPT Chief Marketing Officer, teamed up to host an hour-long presentation to discuss the results of our annual industry survey. But during our presentation, we received too many questions to answer live, so we’re providing you with answers right here, right now!
Is burnout from COVID causing the spike in resignations in clinics?
Maybe. The COVID-19 pandemic forced everyone to reevaluate their life priorities and goals—and many people decided that their careers just weren’t cutting it. Beyond that, many people didn’t resign last year because the world was so unstable and turbulent. So, there was a buildup of people who would have otherwise resigned last year.
Just know that if you’re seeing a large number of resignations at your clinic right now, you’re not alone. There’s been a huge influx in resignations across all industries—sometimes up to 40% of employees—that has been dubbed “The Great Resignation.”
Many of my patients have a high copay and pay upwards of $60 when they come to PT. It’s hard enough to convince them to not skip treatments—so how do I convince them that high cash-pay prices are worth it?
Essentially, you must establish your value proposition. These are the traits of your clinic and services that:
- Differentiate you from your competitors; and
- Explain to patients exactly why they should seek your care.
Perhaps your value proposition is that patients can always expect to be in and out of your clinic within 40 minutes flat—or perhaps you’re the only clinic in the city that provides hydrotherapy. In any case, once you’ve determined your value prop, communicate it with current and prospective patients—and give them a reason to seek your services specifically. This can go a long way toward convincing patients to pay for your cash prices.
Beyond that, be sure to always demonstrate the value of your care to patients. Show them why it’s important that they seek your care instead of self-discharging by actively adjusting their treatment in the clinic (as necessary) and by setting micro goals (sort of like checkpoints) throughout the course of care. This will help patients see how they’re progressing under your expert care—and recognize that your skill is worth paying for.
Telehealth was helpful for keeping our doors open last year—but now our patients prefer to see us in person. Do you see telehealth losing relevance over time?
The short answer is no. Currently, telehealth is seeing a decline in usage in the rehab therapy space—though we suspect that’s a natural reaction to the events of last year. In 2020, telehealth experienced a meteoric boom as rehab therapists went from never using telehealth to relying on it wholesale in an effort to keep their clinics afloat. Those events pushed the adoption of telehealth ahead by years—but we still have a long way to go before telehealth becomes a more permanent fixture of the rehab therapy industry. That said, we believe telehealth will maintain its relevance because it:
- Expands access to care, and
- Encourages treatment adherence.
However, rehab therapists must advocate to retain their telehealth privileges—as many of the regulations that allow PTs, OTs, and SLPs to provide virtual care last only as long as the Public Health Emergency (PHE). If rehab therapists want telehealth services to stick around for the long hall, they need to do more than just talk about it—they need to be about it! Fortunately, there are a number of ways rehab therapists can get in on the industry’s advocacy efforts. It’s just a matter of finding the right fit for you.
Aside from the telehealth tailwind, what are some of the most intriguing growth opportunities within the rehab therapy space?
Great question! One of the biggest trends we identified in our survey data indicated that therapy clinics are planning to offer a plethora of ancillary cash-pay services—from massage and dry needling to nutrition and retail services (e.g., selling Biofreeze). But while these non-traditional services can attract people who may not normally come to your clinic, Jannenga cautions therapists to ensure that your cash-pay services aren’t limiting access to care for underserved patients.
Are therapists seeing an increasing number of patients who need treatment for long COVID? Are there opportunities to offer ancillary services?
This seems to be the case, yes. Studies indicate that one in 10 COVID-19 patients develop long COVID—meaning their symptoms drag on for weeks to months. Physical and occupational therapists are well-positioned to help patients manage some of these symptoms (e.g., fatigue, muscle pain and weakness, impaired daily function and mobility). This is especially true now that the CDC has officially recommended rehab therapy as a treatment for some long COVID symptoms. As such, rehab therapists have an excellent opportunity to reach out to existing and prospective patients and communicate how they can help.
You said more than two-thirds of clinics cut back personnel last year. Do you foresee clinics refilling these positions?
Yes and no. Many clinics—specifically the smaller ones—were forced to shut their doors for good because of last year’s dip in patients. So, it may be some time before people have the capital and the financial security needed to open new startup clinics and hire new employees.
But, as is evidenced by our industry report, 61% of surveyed clinics reported that they’d be back to normal within the year—if they’re not back to normal already. Much of this is due to the current gap in supply and demand for physical therapy services. With orthopedic surgeries having scaled back up, it has created a lot of pent up demand for physical therapy. So, we can expect clinic leaders to start hiring therapists to manage this rise in patient volume—which is incredibly encouraging to see.
What are your thoughts about in-house therapists becoming independently contracted workers?
This past year has introduced a tremendous amount of change to our industry. As such, it’s only natural for rehab therapists to branch out and try something new—especially if that something new is working for themselves. So, it’s easy to see why life as an independently contracted physical therapist might be an appealing option for many. However, before making the leap to contract work—or making any major career decision for that matter—we highly recommend weighing the pros and cons to determine if this move is right for you. Fortunately, we already compiled a few here for you!
Why are more SLPs involved in ASHA than PTs and OTs in the APTA and AOTA?
It’s tough to say for sure. Many of our survey respondents cited cost as a major reason for not joining the APTA and AOTA organizations—and it’s true that the APTA’s dues are much higher than its peers’. That said, the membership dues for ASHA and the AOTA are comparable, so it’s interesting that OTs and OTAs cited cost as their biggest barrier to joining the organization.
Ultimately, Jannenga thinks this phenomena boils down to how heard therapists feel in their respective organizations. For instance, the PT profession is home to a multitude of specialties—each of which has its own section in the APTA. Because the APTA is so highly segmented (and therefore has such a variation in goals) members don’t always feel represented or prioritized by the organization. This can create disenfranchisement and general dissatisfaction. In comparison, SLPs have fewer niche specialties—therefore the ASHA has significantly fewer chapters and can pursue goals that apply widely to its member base.
What type of continuing education holds the most value in terms of increased compensation for a PT?
When choosing CEU units, try to pick a certification that will help differentiate your clinic and reinforce your value proposition. This should help you bring in more patients—and ultimately give you leverage when negotiating your salary with an employer. To pick the right CEU course, ask yourself some of the following questions (courtesy of this blog post):
- “What could you study now that would help your patients most in the next few years?
- What new technique or treatment protocol—one that you really believe in—could you become certified in that would help you differentiate your clinic from others in your area?
- What part of practicing do you love the most—or what condition or injury do you most enjoy treating? Are there any educational opportunities available that could help you become an expert in your area of choice?
- What part of your—or your clinic’s—skillset do you feel is lacking? Is there coursework available that could help you fill in those gaps?”
What do you think practice consolidation will look like in the future? How has the last year affected the amount of M&A activity in the industry?
Good question! We’re actually teaming up with Paul Martin, MPT, CBI, M&AMI, to host a webinar about this very subject! Tune in at 9:00 AM PDT on Thursday, September 23, 2021 to learn all about the latest rehab therapy M&A trends!
In regards to the gender gap among C-level executives, is there a C-suite mentorship program that allows leaders to coach people who are interested in developing C-suite skills?
Still got questions for us? Feel free to drop ‘em below in the comment section, and our team will do its best to answer them for you!