This year has been a roller coaster of change for PTs—and for healthcare workers in general. Even though we’re only halfway through the year, we’ve seen PTs cycle through all sorts of ups and downs, from shutting down their clinics to widely adopting telehealth. Many of these changes came as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic—but some are poised to make a lasting impact on the future of the rehab therapy industry. So, let’s recap seven of the biggest PT trends in 2020.
1. Patient Safety
The first big trend we’ve observed this year is the strong focus on improving patient safety. Patient safety has always been important to PTs, but it was historically rooted in preventing musculoskeletal overexertion and injury. Infection and disease control, though important, weren’t really at the forefront of rehab therapists’ safety concerns. But nowadays, all PTs are practiced disease control experts, and we’ve seen clinics across the nation going to extreme lengths to keep their patients safe—from donning personal protective equipment (PPE) and disinfecting every surface in the clinic to installing partitions or barriers in shared spaces.
With COVID-19 still tearing through the United States, prioritizing patient safety is a wonderful trend, and we admire PTs’ dedication to keeping themselves, their peers, and their patients safe and healthy.
Over the course of the last six months, telehealth has transformed from a niche out-of-pocket service to a critical component of any provider’s clinical toolbelt. In fact, according to this Health Affairs article, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, “approximately 13,000 beneficiaries in fee-for-service (FFS) Medicare received telemedicine in a week. In the last week of April, nearly 1.7 million beneficiaries received telehealth services.” In total, CMS has reported that nearly 9 million beneficiaries have received some kind of telehealth treatment between mid-March and mid-June.
Those numbers are insane! And while they are reflective of the entire healthcare community, PTs are certainly represented. At WebPT, we’ve seen a significant uptick in the number of our Members who provide telehealth services.
The good news is that telehealth is poised to become a lasting fixture in the healthcare industry. Emily Yoder, an analyst in the division of practitioner services at CMS, has publicly stated that healthcare providers should expect to see permanent telehealth policy changes in the annual Final Rule.
When talking about all of the telehealth changes that CMS has pushed down the pipeline, I’d be remiss not to mention the amazing advocacy efforts that got us here. When CMS initially loosened telehealth restrictions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, PTs, OTs, and SLPs were not included in the agency’s virtual care expansion efforts. But due to a coordinated industry-wide advocacy push, CMS heard PTs’ cry for telehealth inclusion and, on April 30, 2020, expanded its emergency telehealth legislation to include rehab therapists.
But the need for advocacy doesn’t stop there. PTs and OTs still face the impending Medicare payment cuts (set to take effect January 1, 2021), and the telehealth opportunities therapists have been afforded this year are (so far) not permanent. Thus, the 2020 advocacy trend must continue. PTs must fight to keep their telehealth privileges and rail against the PT payment cuts. Want to pitch in? Get started here.
4. Home-Based Care
Luckily, telehealth hasn’t been the only avenue for therapists to safely deliver care to patients during this public health crisis. Instead of providing care in a clinic environment and seeing numerous patients in a single space, some therapists have opted to conduct home visits. While this type of care presents its own set of challenges (e.g., therapists have to physically travel from appointment to appointment, regularly change and dispose of PPE, and sanitize equipment on the go), it’s been an effective way for therapists to lessen the risk of exposure.
5. Focus on Mental Health
This year has been incredibly taxing on everyone. Whether you’re worried about the pandemic or you have the BLM movement on your mind, there are plenty of concerns to go around. In response, we’ve seen some clinics pivot their internal processes to focus on bolstering their staff’s mental health. From hosting mental health education sessions and creating employee resource groups (ERGs), to improving mental health insurance coverage, many clinic leaders have taken this as an opportunity to learn about, and better support, their staff.
This year’s BLM movement has sparked serious conversations around curating diversity within the PT community. (Seriously, just look at the comment section on Heidi Jannenga’s latest founder letter.) It’s a well-documented fact that encouraging and supporting diversity in the workplace can be hugely beneficial for businesses. Diverse workforces are more innovative, they solve problems faster, and they make better decisions—and that’s no different when it comes to patient care. Health outcomes vary widely among patients of different races, and acknowledging and working to amend that problem is hugely important. If focusing on, and talking about, diversity is the key to solving this problem of unequal health outcomes, then it’s certainly worth looking into.
7. Revenue Diversification
This pandemic has shaken up the PT industry like a toddler shakes a snowglobe. At one time, elective surgeries were put on hold across the country, completely eliminating a major PT patient referral source. And for a while, PTs weren’t allowed to provide telehealth, which forced them to get creative with how they marketed and delivered their services. Even now, as COVID-19 cases rise across the country and many prospective patients are opting to stay home, therapists must find new ways to encourage people to seek their services—by diversifying their menu of service offerings, for example.
We’re a little more than halfway through this rollercoaster of a year. It’s a bit nerve-wracking to not know what’s ahead, but we can hope that the biggest drops are behind us. Still, we expect the rest of the year to be packed with twists and turns—so keep your eyes on the blog to stay up to date.