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Current Issues in Physical Therapy in 2023 and How to Tackle Them

The physical therapy landscape changed dramatically in 2022. PTs are rallying to conquer some of the top issues in physical therapy practices across the United States. And while items like self-care are still on the list, clinics have adjusted their protocols to offer modern solutions for patients who need them most. Let's explore the five most significant issues facing physical therapists in 2023 and how to solve them.

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Physical Therapy Current Issues in 2023

The physical therapy landscape changed dramatically in 2022. PTs are rallying to conquer some of the top issues in physical therapy practices across the United States. And while items like self-care are still on the list, clinics have adjusted their protocols to offer modern solutions for patients who need them most. Let's explore the five most significant issues facing physical therapists in 2023 and how to solve them.

Five Physical Therapy Current Issues in 2023

In this article, we will discuss the following five current issues physical therapists should be aware of in 2023:

  1. In-home Physical Therapy
  2. Patient Retention
  3. Practice Management
  4. Career Development and Growth
  5. Physical Therapist Self-Care

1. In-home Physical Therapy

Physical therapy clinics in some regions have reduced staffing due to a lack of patients and state laws. Others are running full steam and need all hands on deck. Whether you are interested in offering in-home therapy to attract more clients or help balance the demand from existing clients, in-home therapy can offer many benefits to your practice.

Many don't know that Medicare does cover in-home physical therapy on an outpatient basis (e.g., under Medicare Part B). These types of visits can be offered and billed in the same fashion as a clinic visit.

Considerations for Effective In-home Physical Therapy

Some patients may be more comfortable receiving care in their homes. If you choose to expand your physical therapy services into home health, consider these tips for a successful transition:

  • Draft and implement policies and procedures for home health, recognizing that the way care is delivered and the way the physical therapist operates are slightly different in home health. Ensure policies cover how travel time is paid.
  • Make decisions about cell phones; will you provide home health therapists with cell phones or reimburse them for a portion of their personal cell phone bills?
  • Draft a job description for home health physical therapists and physical therapy assistants, outlining the scheduling differences, roles, and responsibilities in the home health realm.
  • Screen and select therapists who will deliver in-person therapy at home through an interview process to ensure there is interest, passion, and qualification for the role.
  • Set up a mechanism for mileage reimbursement if you don't already have one; home health therapists will need a way to submit and be paid for their travel.
  • Invest in GPS devices for those who will provide mobile care; GPS devices designed to support home health can assist with tracking services provided and facilitating pay for travel or mileage.
  • Encourage therapists to complete documentation during each home visit. This practice ensures documentation is accurate, as it's written when memory is fresh, and it prevents your therapists from having to work in the evenings to get caught up after the day.
  • Consider what supplies would be most important for physical therapists to have with them as they travel and provide care. Ensure extra supplies are kept in their vehicles to prevent unnecessary travel back and forth or ineffective appointments.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, track and measure metrics to ensure your in-home service line is as effective as your outpatient service line and strive for continuous improvement.

2. Patient Retention

It's no secret that retaining your patients is good business, but why is this one of the most significant issues facing physical therapists in 2023? According to a 2019 survey among outpatient OT & PT clinicians, managers, directors & owners, the three leading causes (outside of insurance concerns) of patient retention are time, cost, and physical therapy expectations.

  • 53.3% of patients have time commitments and scheduling difficulties
  • 40% of patients believe PTs have unrealistic expectations for treatment
  • 73.3% of patients don't agree with the cost of treatment

All three stem from one major problem: value. Time commitments would no longer be a problem if patients understood why therapy is necessary. Expectations would seem easy if the value were apparent. And the cost wouldn't concern patients who knew physical therapy treatment was essential to living their best lives.

Tips for Improving Patient Retention

Treat every patient with sterling professionalism, continually underline the benefits of physical therapy, and praise people for their efforts along the way. You'll keep the patients you have and fuel future visits from their friends and family. Build a culture of value around your craft; never let your enthusiasm waiver for impressive results.

Other steps you can take to improve the likelihood that patients will return the next time they need therapy include:

  • Set appropriate expectations around treatment outcomes and the patient's role in their own recovery. Unrealistic expectations are a crucial driver of dissatisfaction; early, honest conversations can help prevent that.
  • Invest in patient portal software, allowing your patients to register and schedule appointments online for convenience. Patients gravitate toward practices that offer convenience and leverage technology.
  • Partner with a home exercise program provider so patients leave with a visual, printed home exercise program that illustrates what they need to do, when they need to do it, and how many reps they need to do. Printed HEPs eliminate confusion and improve compliance - ultimately improving outcomes and patient satisfaction.
  • Ensure a patient-to-provider ratio that allows for timely physical therapy. If patients cannot get scheduled promptly or as their doctor has recommended, they will move on to another practice, even if they had a positive experience with you in the past.

3. Practice Management

Managing a physical therapy clinic is challenging, even for the most skilled entrepreneur. There are so many moving parts in the physical therapy industry. It's nearly impossible to stay on top of everything simultaneously. However, with the proper delegation, marketing channels, and software systems, physical therapists can optimize their environment for patients and staff, promoting a culture beaming with productivity.

Marketing Your PT Practice

The vast world of marketing is constantly changing. Every year the digital space evolves, making older marketing techniques inefficient.

Building a solid customer base, engaging with prior patients, and retaining top PT talent revolves around marketing on the right platforms, at the right time, and to the right audience.

These methods include marketing your practice to physicians along with prospective patients, using a variety of tools. These include the following:

  • Website Updates
  • Email Newsletters
  • Blog Articles
  • Social Media Posts
  • Word of Mouth
  • Google rankings and review-based services

Staying in the digital space has never been more relevant than now when launching a marketing campaign. Once you've polished and launched your campaign, study the results. Pinpointing the most successful features can save you loads of time and money in the future and could reveal eye-opening prospects.

Our free 2022 Marketing Guide offers a comprehensive walk-through of the most critical aspects of marketing for physical therapy practices. You can find it here.

Maintaining HIPAA Compliance

HIPAA violations can be severe offenses for healthcare providers, some resulting in fines up to $50,000 and imprisonment. The Office for Civil Rights has received over 233,581 complaints since April 2003-April 2020. The most significant compliance issues occurred in the following order:

  1. Impermissible uses and disclosures of protected health information (PHI)
  2. Lack of safeguards for PHI
  3. Lack of patient access to PHI
  4. Lack of administrative safeguards for electronic PHI
  5. Use or disclosure of more than the minimum necessary secure health information

Among these complaints, private practices and physicians were among the most likely candidates to commit HIPAA violations.

Practices that back up their encrypted data create strong passwords, install antivirus software, and continuously educate their PTs about HIPAA are far better at staying compliant. This understanding is doubly essential with so many therapists working from home.

MWTherapy's physical therapy EMR offers customized reports to help you identify HIPAA compliance issues. Schedule a free demo to learn more about tracking and measuring compliance with MWTherapy.

Managing & Motivating Your Staff

Practice owners have more hurdles when managing their staff as of late. Ensuring your team is educated on new additions to your practice is essential. But certain hardships in physical therapy were already challenging, so what has changed with maintaining motivation, stellar recruiting, and productivity metrics?

Added stress and anxiety have altered career pathways, affected families, and made physical therapy difficult for all PTs.

Now more than ever, one of the most impactful things practice owners can do is actively listen to their employees. You should also communicate all your information about the ongoing situation with your staff. Sharing this information helps employees feel connected and could also help provide solutions. By asking for their feedback and showing appreciation along the way, people will have a newfound sense of purpose and are motivated to find answers in the workplace.

Other steps you can take to help motivate your team members include:

  • Work to understand their goals and career aspirations. Build a question into performance reviews about where they see themselves one year or two years from now, and then spend time talking about what that career path might look like and what steps they can take to get there.
  • Consider offering performance-based incentives calculated on either production (the number and complexity of visits) or quality (patient outcomes or satisfaction).
  • Hold frequent (biweekly, monthly, or quarterly) one-on-one meetings to discuss challenges, successes, and needs, and then follow through with any action items identified by the next scheduled meeting.
  • Empower team members to solve problems and drive improvement by giving them autonomy in their work. To the extent possible, allow them to decide how they manage their schedule, which certifications make the most sense for them, what equipment they need to best assist their patients, and what solutions will drive efficiency and satisfaction within the practice.

Recruiting and Retaining Top Talent

Whether you're ramping back up for business or you've lost valuable employees in the first month of 2023, recruiting and retaining top PTs is invaluable to any organization. The fact is that many healthcare professionals are out of work for one reason or another right now, and your practice could be where this talent lands.

Recruiting is as simple as finding the best place to post job offerings, updating your website's career section, and providing proper job descriptions. Create a framework for your interview process where you can compare rockstars and decline unfit candidates immediately.

Retaining talent is trickier and boils down to excellent communication, goal-setting, and workplace flexibility. Creating an environment where the lines of communication are wide open promotes growth, and when goals are in place, employees feel like their work is meaningful. You'll rarely lose employees when your staff is supercharged with purpose, and you respect their time by allowing flexible PTO policies and scheduling.

Tracking & Improving Productivity Metrics

Productivity metrics are important while measuring individual PT and the clinic's success. But understand that they are precious tools for understanding your employees.

Use these metrics to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your staff. Ask questions about why specific PTs have better metrics, such as net promoter scores, to figure out how to build up the entire team.

For example, you might evaluate missed appointment metrics to decide how to handle missed appointments in the future. If they happen rarely, perhaps no changes are required. If you see a percentage of appointments missed without cancellation in advance, that can impact your ability to run a profitable physical therapy practice. You might need to consider drafting and implementing a no-show policy to mitigate risk.

Individual metrics for each physical therapist can also provide valuable insight. One therapist with significantly higher volumes or another with significantly lower volumes might trigger additional research and learning.

Finally, productivity metrics can help you measure your therapists' individual performance over time. Access to real-time data allows you to set goals for new therapists and measure their performance against those goals. Likewise, metrics are often the first sign that a team member is struggling personally or professionally and can open the door for conversation.

4. Career Development and Growth

As many facilities have closed, where does that leave physical therapists in their career pathway?

Continuing Education for Physical Therapists

Continuing education (CEU) is almost mandatory in the world of physical therapy. Highlighting courses that align with professional goals can help develop the best clinical skills and industry knowledge - setting you apart from the competition. But which courses should physical therapists pursue?

Look for classes that match your career pathway with their defined course goals, target audience, instructional level, and faculty certifications.

To obtain a larger market share, consider taking or offering courses in in-demand specialties that 1) few other practices in your area offer and 2) many patients can utilize.

Tips for New PT Practice Owners

Starting a new practice is complicated by itself. Add the complications of the times, and it seems daunting. The good news is that most states are opening their economies and getting back to business.

Focus your efforts on marketing and building relationships with local physicians to establish a sturdy patient foundation. When opening a new clinic, it's best to check current federal, state, and local guidelines before acting on your business plan.

Other recommendations include the following:

  • Draft a business plan to ensure you've considered the most important aspects of launching a new business, from financial planning to real estate to marketing and more.
  • Conduct market research, so you understand your target market: their age range, their needs, how they seek care, and more.
  • Choose a physical therapy niche so you can begin branding your practice as specialized from day one.
  • Register your business name early, so you don't spend money on marketing and then run into problems with trademarking or business name registration.
  • Work with a physical therapy practice management company to help you dot your i's and cross your t's on the practice management side.

5. PT Self-care

Self-care is always an issue facing physical therapists, as the industry can be demanding. New PTs out of school might face more stress as they learn new skills and adapt to updated procedures. Meanwhile, established PTs attempt to find a positive work-life balance to avoid burnout.

Managing & Preventing PT Burnout

Handling burnout and finding a positive work-life balance can be difficult for PTs working in a hospital or high-volume practice. Especially with fewer employees on the payroll, somebody has to pick up the slack. Managing burnout and creating this balance is typically due to a need for more communication.

Practice owners and physical therapists must be vocal when they've bitten off more than they can chew. Shifting the workload evenly amongst your PTs will eliminate potential burnout, create happier and healthier employees, and allow for a better patient care experience.

You can help prevent burnout by meeting with therapists often to discuss their workload, offering flexible schedules, giving therapists autonomy over their schedules as long as they meet goals, and automating tedious tasks like appointment scheduling and HEPs.

Identifying & Handling Stress

Managing the stress of work, life, and therapy outcomes can be a heavy burden. Patients who don't show up for treatment and wonder why they aren't getting better can overload the best PT. Even worse, some patients have suffered a traumatic injury or are dealing with a debilitating illness.

Identify signs of stress by asking yourself some of the following questions:

  • Have you become cynical or critical at work?
  • Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started?
  • Have you become irritable or impatient with patients?
  • Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
  • Do you find it hard to concentrate?
  • Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions, it might be time to communicate your concerns with your leadership, take additional time to decompress, and speak with a doctor or mental health provider.

You can help manage and cope with job-related stress by setting boundaries, communicating openly and honestly, exercising regularly, getting enough rest, and establishing routines at work and at home that keep you organized.

The Bottom Line: Tackle PT Current Issues With MWTherapy

Being a physical therapist is a challenging and rewarding profession. When PTs can overcome these obstacles to their daily routines, it makes their job enjoyable, fun, and fulfilling. Helping patients can be one of the most rewarding feelings on the planet. Physical therapists are on the front lines daily, tackling the issues in this article and making a recovery possible.

Request a 30-minute no-pressure demo today to learn more about how MWTherapy can help you stay competitive in 2023 and beyond.

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