I’m no fortune teller; I don’t have a crystal ball, and I can’t see into the future. But like a good sports analyst or meteorologist, I can make some educated hypotheses. And while I definitely couldn’t tell you who’s going to win the Super Bowl next month—or what the weather will be like at kick-off—I’m pretty confident about these five predictions of the topics and trends that will have the biggest impact on the physical therapy community in 2015:
The healthcare industry is changing, and in the never-ending quest to control costs while simultaneously elevating the quality of care patients receive, outcomes have emerged as a vital component of the pay-for-performance reimbursement models many payers are embracing.
For physical therapists, outcomes have traditionally provided a mechanism for staying ahead of the game—for gaining a competitive edge in insurance contract negotiations and referral marketing efforts. As we enter 2015, however, outcomes are fast becoming necessary to merely stay in the game. To truly capitalize on our strengths—and own our roles—as healthcare providers in the current medical landscape, PTs must be able to objectively demonstrate the effectiveness of their care.
You all know how amazing you are; you witness incredible outcomes in your clinics every day. But physicians and insurance companies can’t see those results firsthand; they can’t experience the human impact of what you do. What they can see, though, are the numbers representing those results, and in our increasingly data-driven society, that information holds a lot of weight. Additionally, outcomes tracking allows practices to assess clinical team performance through benchmarking. Practice owners and directors can then use that data to make informed business decisions, enabling them to better manage their therapists and their practices as a whole. After all, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.
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The therapy industry has changed a lot in the last couple of decades. Back when I first started practicing—almost 20 years ago—it was all about the big dogs. Then the economy did a 180, and things started breaking up. At that point, independent private practice clinics stepped into the spotlight, which did wonders in the patient care department. But now, with ever-increasing regulations and declining reimbursements, consolidation is making a comeback. Faced with shrinking profit margins—but not wanting to close their doors for good—many clinic owners are considering joining forces with larger practices that have the business resources necessary to contend with the market forces working against them. And while, according to this report from Harris Williams & Co., smaller, independently-owned practices still account for about 45% of the physical therapy market, many of those businesses are having a tough time expanding “outside of their local footprint due to underdeveloped referral sources and infrastructure.”
So, while I think we’re probably going to see a swing back to a less-fragmented landscape—a return of the big dogs, if you will—I also believe that this time around, things will be a lot different. Why? Well, most importantly, the people at the helm of these large practices are PTs—rather than hired CEO guns. So unlike the private equity-owned, HMO-driven mega-corporations of the past, these owners don’t see patients as just dollar signs. In 2015, I foresee a lot of PT businesses partnering, consolidating, buying in, and taking on private equity funding. And all of that means that influential, business-minded PTs—specifically, some key heavy-hitters in our industry—will maintain the power.
In my book, change is inevitable, and we here at WebPT support industry changes —so long as PTs have the final say over what happens in our profession, and so long as those in this industry make decisions that increase our clout, respect, and autonomy within the healthcare community.
Try as they might, ICD-10 resistors aren’t gaining any ground in their efforts to further delay the implementation of these diagnosis codes. And while we may see some additional efforts to put off the inevitable—particularly in conjunction with the SGR fix legislation that likely will come around (again) in March—I truly believe that the switch to ICD-10 will occur October 1, 2015. What does that mean for you and your practice? If you haven’t already started preparing for the transition, then now’s the time to get going. I recommend checking out the resources on ICD10forPT.com. There’s a good deal that goes into getting ICD-10-ready, from learning the new code structure and ensuring the readiness of your vendors to evaluating your staffing needs and preparing for reimbursement delays.
4. EMR Switches
Smart PT business owners are always looking for ways to run leaner, more efficient, increasingly agile practices. In-clinic server farms—and the costly IT staff, constant maintenance, and time-consuming manual updates that go along with them—definitely don’t fit into that objective. That’s why in 2015, PTs will wise up to the burden of server-based EMRs (that includes those not-so-cleverly disguised “web-enabled” systems, too) and embrace the cloud. I’m talkin’ solutions that are truly web-based, continuously (and automatically) updated, browser agnostic, and compatible with multiple operating systems (like, ahem, WebPT). In short, 2015 is the year of the smart switch.
5. The Rise of the Patient
Back in the old days, getting more patients meant you had to get more physician referrals. And while doctors are still an important source of new business for physical therapists, patients are increasingly taking their health into their own hands. Because in this day and age, researching symptoms and vetting treatment options is as easy as hitting your Enter key. With that kind of power, patients no longer have to consult with their primary care providers to learn how physical therapy can help them. And with direct access to therapy services rapidly shifting from being the exception to being the rule—thanks to legislation passed last year, some form of direct access to physical therapy now exists in all 50 states—I predict that in 2015, we will really start to see a deviation from the traditional patient path to PT.
As physical therapists, we’re all about progress—and based on my predictions for 2015, we’re going to see plenty of progress in our industry over the next 12 months. Of course, there will be plenty of challenges, too. But although we might have to break a few tackles, if we keep playing tough—if we can we continue to move the ball down the field—we’ll score some major points this year.