COVID-19 and Other Challenges for Physical Therapists Today

October is National Physical Therapy Month, but it is safe to say that nothing about the year 2020 even remotely resembles prior years. One of the goals for promoting Physical Therapy Month each year is to raise awareness about the importance of physical activity for good health.

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, over 80% of adults and adolescents in the United States fail to get enough physical activity. Physical therapists and physical therapy assistants are vital in helping individuals reach their physical activity goals, recover from injury, and improve their quality of life. But, like so many occupations, the global COVID-19 pandemic has provided physical therapists with new sets of challenges to overcome. Here is a brief look at some of the obstacles physical therapists are facing right now.

Pandemic Disruptions

A July 2020 survey conducted by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) illustrates that some progress is being made in physical therapy practices across the nation, but patient levels are still far below pre-COVID levels. There continue to be issues with a decline of physician referrals and an increase in unemployment related to the pandemic.


Telehealth is expanding, but slowly. One thing the pandemic influenced across the healthcare spectrum is the expansion of telehealth services, including physical therapy. Pre-COVID, 98% of all physical therapists were not providing video consultations. Now, almost 50% of PTs report that they have instituted live video consults, although 77% report that they are only treating up to five patients per week through video services.

CMS Fee Schedule Reductions

As if the financial challenges brought on by pandemic weren’t concerning enough, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) is proposing a fee schedule reduction that includes an estimated 9% drop in payments to physical therapists. These cuts are not yet confirmed, and it is anticipated that nothing concrete will be decided until after the election on November 3rd.

Patient Health

Before the COVID outbreak, Americans were already dealing with ailments and chronic illnesses made worse due to a lack of physical activity. Now, with so many parts of the country having been shut down for months, many patients are suffering from the effects of inactivity and infrequent treatment in managing chronic illness. As communities begin opening back up, whether it happens soon or not until a vaccine is distributed, patient volumes will eventually increase for physical therapy. The real question that is yet to be answered is how the shutdowns due to COVID have impacted patient obesity, chronic illnesses, and recovery.

PT Compact Considerations

PTs and PTAs can mitigate career uncertainty brought upon by the pandemic by taking on travel or telehealth assignments. Not all areas of the United States are experiencing rising levels of COVID infections meaning patient volumes are at or nearing past performance in many states. Travel therapy is becoming easier as licensing between states is more streamlined and including telehealth services. Today, there are 20 states that belong to the Physical Therapy Compact, with another 12 states that have enacted or introduced compacting legislation.

PT Jobs Still Exist

Physical therapists and physical therapy assistants that have been facing the uncertainties associated with the COVID pandemic should take heart. Patient volumes are slowly rebounding and will continue into the coming year. No matter how uncertain things may seem, PT and PTA careers are still ranked among the fastest-growing occupations in the United States.

The most important aspect of finding the right job opportunity is establishing a relationship with a great recruiter. Supplemental Health Care has a team of experienced healthcare recruitment professionals who can help you find a position or travel assignment that fits your skills, specialty, lifestyle needs, and experience. Contact an SHC recruitment professional today and learn how you can “Worry Less, Care More” today!