Like many other areas of health care, physical therapy is undergoing some significant changes. From health care reform to new technologies that enable new ways of acquiring patients, there will be challenges in the future; but there will also be opportunities. Providers who lay the groundwork now to adapt will be better prepared to shift to a more competitive place in the market. Even if you’re a clinic owner with a well-run operation, becoming complacent could cost you meaningful decreases in revenue and patient retention.
Job growth for the physical therapy profession started to increase in 2008 and is expected to continue increasing to 30 percent by 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data cited by Job.net. The report further mentioned that physical therapy offices will be on the rise by 54 percent by 2018. With the aging Baby Boomer population about to explode, there will be heightened demand for therapy services, especially preventative therapy. Home health care services are also predicted to grow by 47 percent by 2018.
Health care reform has also created significant changes in the past few years, and will continue to impact providers. Physical therapists will need to adapt to delivering value and accountability through the services they provide. Reimbursements are now dependent on the quality of care clinicians can deliver by documenting outcomes and looking for additional ways to improve their level of service while reducing overall costs.
Steven Allred, PT and president of PREFERRED Therapy Providers, Inc. since 2012, recently spoke to a visitor about the trends he sees that will have the greatest impact on physical therapy providers in the coming year and beyond:
Q: In your experience as a physical therapist, what significant developments have you seen recently?
A: There have been a number of new developments in physical therapy that may impact providers in the very near future. The Affordable Care Act enabled a large number of people to access health care coverage. Other reforms have placed emphasis on bringing more transparency to costs and improving the quality of care. Not only do some people have health insurance for the first time through the exchanges, but Medicaid also underwent an expansion, making certain kinds of care more accessible to a wider audience. At the same time, patients are expected to take on a more active role in their own health care, which is a crucial element in physical, occupational and speech therapy. Lastly, many areas of health care have a renewed focus on prevention, rather than just treating existing conditions.
Q: What should providers know about finances and revenue cycle management?
A: With a great deal of changes in health care expected over the next decade, providers need to be cognizant of the business side of running a clinic. The financial aspect will be just as important to ensuring clinics position themselves for success as is the quality of clinic service.
A clinic needs to be nimble; it needs to be well-run and managed. Clinic owners should be very aware of the financial and operational metrics so that they can adapt and take advantage of opportunities quickly and profitably.
“Private practice clinic owners need to stay cognizant of upcoming changes and challenges in their respective markets.”
Private practice clinic owners need to stay cognizant of upcoming changes and challenges in their respective markets. Because finances and revenue cycle management are top concerns for clinic owners, there should be an owner or chief executive officer who has a tight handle on operational metrics, such as revenue, cost-per-visit and optimal staffing levels. Providers must strive to offer the best care possible for their patients but need someone at the top to stay cognizant of upcoming changes and challenges in their respective markets, streamline operations and choose the right risks to take that could create potential opportunities. Having a CEO who understands the financial aspects of running a private practice therapy clinic will set that business up for future success. Clinics must be committed to establishing the support systems that will keep them in operation such as infrastructure, mentors and coaches.
Starting a new clinic and running it profitably is more difficult than in the past. Successful clinics have strong business plans, targeted marketing efforts, and are making investments in systems and people. The health care industry is more complex and dynamic now. Ignorance of potential opportunities and challenges could lead to future difficulties. Clinic owners that are prepared for change will have the best results.
Q: How is the perception of physical therapy changing and what does this mean for patient acquisition?
A: More people are starting to see physical therapy as a preferred form of musculoskeletal care. Industry leaders and professional organizations are promoting the preventative value of physical therapy, much like going to the dentist for a routine exam. In the past, physical therapy treatment was primarily limited to people recovering from serious injuries or surgery. With an increase in the aging population and people seeking preventative care, providers can implement a marketing strategy to attract a larger patient base instead of just depending upon physician referrals.
Additionally, patients are far more tech-savvy than ever before. Physical therapists can no longer expect potential patients to find a clinic on their own. There’s an online perspective as well as word of mouth referrals. I think those types of trends including online reviews, social media, a robust website and other marketing methods are becoming more prevalent in physical therapy clinics and health care in general. As patient-focused care takes off throughout the health care industry, strengthening relationships with clients and building your reputation online will be crucial to success.
Another area that providers should be aware of is the overall patient experience. Engaged patients can be a great source of new referrals. I think that PREFERRED member, Jack Pentlarge of ProActive Physical Therapy summed it up well in his recent interview on how persistence pays off with patient-centered marketing and promotional strategies.
Q: Can you summarize how prepared providers can set themselves up for opportunity?
A: There’s no doubt that the health care industry is undergoing massive changes. Clinics that strive to be adaptable now will be in a good position for success. That means that clinic owners will have to hone their own unique value proposition to stand out and increase new patient acquisition. Providers really need to emphasize quality care and patient-centric relationships.
Although there are many opportunities for physical, occupational and speech therapy services, clinic owners must undertake preparations seriously so that they aren’t blindsided by new developments. Even with the expected growth in the industry for the need for preventative care, clinic owners should not expect the growing need to drive revenue and referrals on their own. With strong planning and managing financial and operational costs, and investing in marketing, clinic owners can still grow and achieve a profitable bottom line while still doing what we love, and that is delivering excellent care to our patients.
This article is brought to you by PREFERRED Therapy Providers Inc. PREFERRED is the nation’s leading payor management services network. Our expertise is working with physical, occupational and speech therapy practices – from single clinics to multiple clinic locations.