Most superhero sagas revolve around a classic battle of good versus evil. The good guy—our hero—swoops in to save the day, rescuing everyone from whatever horrible deed the baddie was planning. But sometimes, a story needs two heroes to get the job done. While Batman and Superman are awesome—seriously, we love superheroes—in our world, the real superheroes are physical therapists. They may not wear capes or masks, but every day, PTs across the globe wield their extraordinary dysfunction-fighting skills to treat musculoskeletal conditions no one else can tackle. But like many superheroes, they’re misunderstood—and because of that, they also are undervalued.
This is nothing new, though. The concern over commoditization has been growing for some time. In 2014, Heidi Jannenga wrote a piece for Physiospot that encouraged providers to address the commoditization challenge head-on by encouraging patients to seek physical therapy first. And in his lecture at the California Physical Therapy Association’s annual meeting two years ago, Jeff Hathaway, PT, also discussed the commoditization of physical therapy. Since then, the fight against the devaluation of physical therapy has only intensified. That’s because payers still have no reason to pay certain providers more money based on the quality of their treatment. In fact, overall, payers have continued to decrease payments. Here’s why:
Imagine you’re trying to choose from three cuts of steak at the grocery store. They all look the same, and if you didn’t know which piece was of a higher-quality grade—and thus, likely to be juicier, more tender, and more flavorful than the others—you’d probably pick the cheapest option. But have you ever eaten a $2 steak? If so, you know it’s tough and kind of bland—and you probably wound up giving it to your dog. No patient wants a $2 steak kind of therapy experience, but there’s never been a way to tell which providers are higher quality—and thus, worthy of a higher cost. So, even if patients aren’t happy with the quality of their treatment, they don’t know which providers they should see instead.
Now imagine your grocery store is forced to sell all three types of steak for the same price, regardless of quality. Sounds crazy, right? Yet that’s exactly what’s happening to physical therapists. Good providers are losing money left and right because, as WebPT’s Brooke Andrus mentioned in an earlier post, payers currently “measure cost and value using their own data indicators.” The result? Most payers see physical therapy as a cost to be reduced rather than a valuable treatment option to be leveraged.
The question is no longer whether PT has been commoditized, but rather, what the industry can do about it. Thankfully, value-based payment models are quickly crushing their fee-for-service counterparts, which means demonstrating the quality of your services isn’t only important to your patients and your bottom line—it’s critical. But a new payment model alone won’t fix the problem if PTs don’t actually take action to prove their worth.
That’s why we’re all for a new plot twist to the superhero story: Coming soon to a clinic near you, physical therapy and outcomes will take on commoditization and usher in a new era of value. PTs bring incredible training and skills—à la Batman—to fight for their patients, and outcomes is like the Superman of data (except for that part about leaping over tall buildings). Together, PTs can use outcomes to indisputably prove that they deliver:
- great results,
- low cost of care, and
- high patient satisfaction levels.
Right now, physical therapists don’t have a lot of say in how they are perceived or how they are paid. If you don’t want your services being marginalized—and we certainly don’t—then it’s time to use outcomes data to finally prove what you’re worth. The power of physical therapy combined with the might of outcomes data can change the public’s perception of the value of PT—and that’s pretty super.