As high-deductible health plans—and other factors contributing to rising healthcare costs—become a mainstay in the US healthcare system, patients are being saddled with a greater portion of their healthcare bills than ever before. As a result, these patients are displaying many more consumer-like behaviors. After all, they’re more conscious about the dollar-for-dollar value of the services they’re receiving. So, instead of taking their physicians’ recommendations at face value, these patient-consumers are doing their own research to find the very best treatment and provider options—in terms of both quality and cost. And while physical therapists have historically had their fair share of challenges with respect to establishing their value with patients and payers alike, the skyrocketing cost of health care—along with nationwide improvements in direct access law—affords PTs the perfect opportunity to shine. That’s because physical therapists often offer better, less-risky treatment at a much lower overall cost than many more invasive interventions (e.g., injections and surgery).

Sure, the rising cost of health care isn’t necessarily great for the healthcare system at large, but this can be a “make-lemonade-out-of-lemons" moment for physical therapists and their patients. Here’s why:

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The Reasons

1. Patients are taking greater control of their healthcare decisions.

Up until recently, one of the only reliable ways for physical therapists to obtain new patients was to develop referral relationships with physicians, because those physicians served as the main gateway to patients. Today, PTs can continue to maintain those relationships and expand their marketing efforts to reach patients directly. This is important—even for therapists who practice in states without unlimited direct access laws—because many patients are doing their homework before they ever set foot in a physician’s office. If they’ve heard—or read—good things about physical therapy, they may go to their physician already armed with data as to why PT (and specifically, why your practice) is exactly the treatment option they would like to explore next. Plus, patients who are more involved in their healthcare decisions may also be more engaged in their care—and more motivated to accomplish their goals. These engaged, motivated patients will, in turn, improve your clinical outcomes—thereby providing you with even more positive data you can use to market your practice.

2. Everyone is on the prowl for high-quality, low-cost options.

Patients aren’t the only ones looking for high-quality, low-cost treatment options. Other providers and payers are on the prowl as well. Data demonstrating the effectiveness of physical therapy—and its comparatively low cost—may not only prompt payers and other providers to send more patients your way, but also lead to funding for additional research on the benefits of physical therapy in a variety of clinical scenarios. This could be a great way for the profession to establish once and for all its reputation as the go-to provider for patients with neuromusculoskeletal conditions. Furthermore, it could lead payers to finally see physical therapy as a value-add—rather than merely a cost to be managed. And that could give way to reimbursement rates that better reflect the value therapists already know they deliver.

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3. One good deed deserves another.

As more of your existing patients come to experience the value of physical therapy, they’re likely to share that positive experience with their friends, family members, and online communities, thereby expanding the number of people who understand the value of physical therapy—and will potentially consider it for themselves. As Heidi Jannenga, PT, DPT, ATC/L, wrote in this post, currently, more than 90% of the patients who could benefit from physical therapy never receive it. That represents a huge opportunity for you to reach more of the patients who need you. And one of the best ways to do that is by ensuring you’re fostering patient loyalty with your existing ones, because loyal patients make the very best advocates.

The Action Steps

Now, you could rest on your laurels during this era of change and still experience some of the more passive benefits—for example, you may see a slight increase in new patients who hear about the benefits of physical therapy from someone else. But, there are also action steps that you can take to set yourself up for even more success. Here are a few strategies for making the most lemonade out of this lemony time period (adapted from this post):

1. Become a care coordinator.

By embracing direct access and serving as your patients’ first point of contact in the healthcare system, you’ll be in an incredibly important position. After all, it’ll be on you to ensure patients receive the very best care—at the very lowest cost—whether that comes from you or another provider.

2. Continue marketing the entire PT profession.

Marketing your own practice is a must—but so is marketing the physical therapy profession as a whole. More people need to know the benefits of first-line physical therapy intervention—and who better to make the case than the people who know this industry best?

3. Practice at the top of your license.

Now’s the time to step up your game to ensure you’re providing your patients with the most valuable care possible—and that extends beyond the clinic to include home exercise programs and value-add educational content.

4. Prioritize the right kind of data tracking.

According to WebPT’s Brooke Andrus, “By measuring patient outcomes through the use of standardized tools, PTs can amass an arsenal of objective proof underscoring their value and importance as members of a patient’s overall medical team.” Boom. (To learn more about the kinds of data you should be collecting, check out the full post here.)

5. Make your voice heard.

In 2018, Medicare’s therapy cap was repealed—and that’s a huge win for PTs and their patients. But, we’ve got to keep the momentum going. So ask yourself: What else can you accomplish to move the PT profession forward—and reach more patients—through advocacy?

There you have it: why the skyrocketing cost of health care is good for PTs. Have any other strategies for capitalizing on the current healthcare environment that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear them in the comment section below.

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