The Value of Physical Therapy in Tomorrow's Healthcare System

Posted by Heidi Trivelpiece

| Physical Therapy Trends

The forever evolving landscape of healthcare is expected to look significantly different in the years to come, and physical therapy and other rehabilitation services are at the forefront of those changes. Among the areas that are expected to be the focal point of these changes are:

  • Cost Containment
  • Early return home after medical event
  • Reduced Use of Opioids
  • Treat Injuries/Symptoms Caused by Our Use of Technology

Cost Containment

There is increasing discussion that over the next 10 years physical and occupational therapy (PT and OT) will transition to a 1st point of entry into the healthcare system for musco-skeletal issues. In past years, primary care physicians would prescribe medication, order x-rays, and recommend other tests in order to assess the patient’s condition before even contemplating PT or OT. The physical therapist becomes the “last resort” to treat the patient. Seeing a physical therapist sooner for musco-skeletal injuries can provide the patient with earlier access to treatment for their injury, which means your visit to a licensed physical therapist first can mean less cost to the healthcare system and less cost to the patient.There is research demonstrating that this change in structure would reduce healthcare costs and decrease early opioid usage.

Early Return Home After a Medical Event

The aging population is as active as ever for longer than ever. They value recreation, and travel and quality of independent livelihood. Older adults want to return to the comforts of their own home as early as possible after a medical event. This trend is being seen with decrease length of stay in hospitals and skilled nursing facilities. These patients however may still need therapy interventions to return them to full prior level of function and prevent reentry into hospital or SNF and to decrease burden of care for family and caregivers. Outpatient therapy allows patient to remain at home and receive the services they need for maximal quality of life.


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Reduced Use of Opioids

PTs are often used for pain management strategies without the use of medication. Through targeted exercise, home exercise programs, modalities, manual therapies, education on posture, education on breathing, education on activity modification/pacing and ergonomics therapy can reduce pain with non-pharmacological means. Opioids run the risk of addiction, and cost more. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total "economic burden" of prescription opioid misuse alone in the United States is $78.5 billion a year, including the costs of healthcare, lost productivity, addiction treatment, and criminal justice involvement. Physical therapy is less costly, and does not lead to addiction.

Treat Injuries/Symptoms Caused by Our Use of Technology

Technology has become a significant part of our lives, and through this increased usage, our posture and everyday ergonomics has undergone significant changes resulting in more shoulder and neck pain, lower back pain, etc. Out body is literally developing postural changes, and as a result our bodies are changing their shape. We were built for hunting, farming and gathering and were meant to be upright. Now, everything is forward. The approach for PTs in the future will need to adjust and be more focused on preventative measures, preventing “tech neck”, and asking questions such as “Where do you sit to use your electronic device?” PTs will need to suggest adjustments to holding such devices as well as limiting use of these devices.

The value of physical therapy will remain significant in the coming years as our healthcare landscape shifts from a broad one size fits all approach to one that centers on a more personalized, whole body and mind philosophy. If you're interested in learning more about our physical therapy services, contact us today!

Author Bio:

Heidi has worked as a physical therapist practitioner for over two decades in a variety of clinical settings, including acute hospitals, orthopedic clinics, and occupational health and skilled nursing facilities. Heidi’s passion for outpatient orthopedic services is put to good use in her position as director of outpatient services where she oversees all clinical and operational aspects of our outpatient services in San Diego.