If your staff is feeling overworked and overwhelmed, then it’s high-time to make a change—and that change may very well entail adding to your headcount (and your payroll). But, a smart practice—and a smart leader—will want to maximize those dollars by making the right hire. Do you really need another full-time therapist? Maybe—but maybe not. Instead, perhaps you need a per diem therapist—or a PTA. Before you post that job description, take a look at what kind of hire would really best serve your practice and your budget. But first, here’s a quick refresher on the differences between a PT and a PTA.

Physical Therapy Software Buyer’s Guide - Regular BannerPhysical Therapy Software Buyer’s Guide - Small Banner

The Difference Between a PT and a PTA

As WebPT’s Courtney Lefferts explained in this article, “physical therapist assistants (PTAs) generally assist in the treatment of all patients and can work in a variety of settings—from hospitals to fitness facilities.” According to the APTA, “PTAs implement selected components of patient/client interventions (treatment), obtain data related to the interventions provided, and make modifications in selected interventions either to progress the patient/client as directed by the physical therapist or to ensure patient/client safety and comfort.” As such, there are some job responsibilities that PTs and PTAs share.

It’s important to note, however, that it’s the licensed physical therapist who must always perform the initial evaluation, outline the plan of care, supervise the PTA, and cosign the notes. While most payers will reimburse for services performed by a PTA—as long as they meet supervision and billing guidelines—the Medicare law that repealed the therapy cap also changed the reimbursement structure for assistant-provided services. As WebPT’s Kylie McKee wrote in this post, “Starting January 1, 2022, services furnished by PTAs and OTAs will be reimbursed at 85% of the usual rate”—as a means to “theoretically offset the extra expenditures associated with the cap repeal.”

Now, let’s get to some hypothetical scenarios—and who might be the best hire for each:

1. You can’t get new patients promptly scheduled for initial evaluations, because schedules are so jam-packed.

When a patient reaches out to you to schedule an appointment, chances are good that he or she is in pain—or at least not able to perform an important physical function. For those patients, waiting weeks to begin the healing process can feel excruciatingly long—and that may very well cause your prospective patients to seek out other providers. To be sure you can provide the very best care—when your patients need it—you may need to hire another full-time physical therapist. He or she can step in to take new patients immediately, thereby ensuring that you don’t lose patients before they ever set foot in your practice’s door. (To prevent losing patients during the course of their care, you’ll want to turn your focus to the patient experience and patient retention.)

2. Prospective patients are asking for appointments on days (or at times) that your current therapists aren’t available—or willing to work.

Today’s patients may expect their healthcare providers to adapt to their schedules—not the way around. Depending on your market (and your desire to be competitive with other practices in your area), you may need to expand your hours in order to offer appointment times before or after the workday—and on the weekends. If your current staff is spread too thin to accommodate this type of a scheduling shift, then bringing in a new full-time therapist with a very flexible schedule might be the way to go. That way, you can set expectations from the get-go regarding schedule availability.

3. Patients are waiting too long for instructions between exercises.

If you’re able to complete your patients’ initial evaluations without a hitch, but you’re finding that patients aren’t getting enough attention while they’re in the clinic for subsequent appointments—and when they’re performing their exercises—then you may want to bring in a PTA to assist. He or she can work with the PT to understand the plan of care, and then work with the patient to carry out that plan in the clinic. PTAs can also provide support in training patients to complete their home exercise programs (HEPs), thus ensuring that patients feel confident enough to perform their exercises at home—safely. Plus, if you’re using an HEP software that comes stocked with a secure messaging portal that patients can use to provide feedback about their HEPs—and ask questions—PTAs can be invaluable resources in terms of not only responding to patient questions, but also identifying patient challenges and bringing those to the PT’s attention. That way, the therapist can modify the existing plan without having to wait for the patient to return for his or her next appointment.

4. Your patient volume ebbs and flows, so your staff is overworked right now—but that changes with the seasons.

No one wants to hire a full-time employee for a short-term increase in patient volume—because when that patient volume falls (say, at the end of the season), you’ll either have to pay a salary for an employee you don’t need or let someone go. Instead, consider bringing in either a travel PTA or PT—or someone local you can pay by the day (i.e., a per diem therapist). That way, you get the help you need when you need it, and there are no expectations regarding long-term employment (or benefits). As an added bonus, you can often use per diem therapists to fill in when your regular staff members call in sick or go on vacation. Just be sure you know the ins and outs of credentialing and billing for travel and temp staff.

Regardless of what role you decide to hire for, you’ll want to ensure that you hire for culture first—even if we’re talking about a temporary team member. After all, your patients won’t know the difference between a full-time employee and a fill-in. And everyone who interacts with your patients represents your brand—and impacts your reputation.

  • 4 Things We Must Do to Save PT From Certain Death (as Told at the 2019 Graham Sessions) Image

    articleMar 11, 2019 | 23 min. read

    4 Things We Must Do to Save PT From Certain Death (as Told at the 2019 Graham Sessions)

    In one of the last talks at the 2019 Graham Sessions, a young physical therapist boldly stated that in focusing solely on survival, we are actually killing the PT profession. We are clinging to a reactive—rather than proactive—mode of operation, and in doing so, we are surrendering the millions of patients we could be helping to other, less-skilled professionals. And that means we are failing them. In essence, we are standing idle, content with the status quo …

  • Patient-Focused Revenue Strategy for Outpatient Rehabilitation Image

    articleMar 23, 2018 | 6 min. read

    Patient-Focused Revenue Strategy for Outpatient Rehabilitation

    If you run an outpatient rehabilitation practice, facility, or department, chances are good that you’ve been looking for ways to help boost your organization’s revenue—especially given the fact that third-party reimbursement rates have been steadily declining (or at least remaining stagnant) for a while now. While you could certainly try to renegotiate your contracts —or haggle for more approved visits per patient—these strategies may require more effort than they’re worth. Instead, there are patient-focused strategies you can …

  • Why I Paid $75 Per PT Visit for Two Months Image

    articleAug 24, 2018 | 9 min. read

    Why I Paid $75 Per PT Visit for Two Months

    When I woke up after a night of boot-scootin’ my way down Lower Broadway—Nashville’s famous honky-tonk alley—my head wasn’t the only thing that hurt. In fact, the moment I stepped out of bed, I knew I was in serious trouble, even if I wasn’t quite ready to admit it to myself. Part of me was in denial that I could actually injure myself from swinging through one too many do-si-dos. But, the shooting pain I felt on …

  • The State of Rehab Therapy in 2018 Image

    downloadJun 28, 2018

    The State of Rehab Therapy in 2018

    To see results from our most recent industry survey, check out the 2019 State of Rehab Therapy Report. To say that the healthcare industry is complex would be an understatement. While the advent of technology has made care more precise, efficient, and collaborative than ever before, it has also put greater pressure on providers to deliver high-value care at scale. After all, big data makes it possible to not only develop the most effective, evidence-based best practices …

  • More Than a Number: Personalizing Patient Care in Your Growing Therapy Practice Image

    articleMar 28, 2018 | 4 min. read

    More Than a Number: Personalizing Patient Care in Your Growing Therapy Practice

    Many small private practices achieve success because of the stellar one-on-one care they provide—and amazing patient experiences they create. After all, what better way to foster patient loyalty and garner word-of-mouth referrals to ultimately boost revenue as well as your reputation? Unfortunately, though, that level of attention can be difficult to maintain as your practice grows—and patients can end up falling through the proverbial cracks as providers’ calendars become increasingly jam-packed. That is, of course, unless you …

  • The State of Rehab Therapy in 2019 Image

    downloadJun 17, 2019

    The State of Rehab Therapy in 2019

    Each year, we survey thousands of rehab therapy professionals on the metrics, strategies, and complicating factors that influence success in the current healthcare market. In 2019, we received more than 6,000 responses from individuals in a variety of settings, specialties, and geographic regions—and we’ve compiled all that data into the single most comprehensive annual report on the state of the rehab therapy industry.  This report features insights on everything from demographics and financial metrics to regulatory challenges …

  • Sticking Point: 4 Tips for Getting Patients to Do Their HEPs Image

    articleMar 9, 2018 | 5 min. read

    Sticking Point: 4 Tips for Getting Patients to Do Their HEPs

    We all know the benefits of a physical therapy home exercise program—and that home exercise compliance can make a huge difference in a patient’s ability to achieve his or her functional goals and remain engaged in a plan of care. But, getting patients (especially those who don’t regularly prioritize physical fitness) to adhere to their prescribed home exercises can be a challenge for even the most motivated physical therapists. After all, you’re essentially trying to convince someone …

  • The Physical Therapist's HEP Software Buyer's Guide Image

    articleMar 22, 2018 | 4 min. read

    The Physical Therapist's HEP Software Buyer's Guide

    Most people don’t particularly enjoy receiving homework—and your patients are no different. But, a physical therapy home exercise program (HEP) is a necessary component of an effective PT plan of care. There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to work with a patient in-clinic and achieve the results you both want. Plus, the very best long-term results often stem from lifestyle changes, and that’s something your patients have to do for themselves— with your expert help, …

  • The Tech Effect: 3 Ways Your PT Support Staff are Ruining the Patient Experience Image

    articleJun 21, 2018 | 4 min. read

    The Tech Effect: 3 Ways Your PT Support Staff are Ruining the Patient Experience

    Many practices employ physical therapy techs to help progress patients through their in-clinic exercises when a therapist has multiple patients in the office at the same time. While techs can help enable therapists to manage larger patient loads —thereby improving patient access to care and increasing revenue for the business—there may be a cost associated with this common business practice. And that’s especially true if your techs aren’t practicing at the top of their game. In fact, …

Achieve greatness in practice with the ultimate EMR for PTs, OTs, and SLPs.