Physical Therapy Challenges During COVID-19

Let’s face it, even before COVID-19 gripped the nation, most Americans were not getting nearly enough exercise. Now, over 18 months into the pandemic, it is more important than ever for people to find ways and opportunities to increase their daily physical activity. National Physical Therapy Month (NPTM) again focuses on last year’s ChoosePT campaign to help raise awareness about the many benefits of physical therapy and its role in maintaining good health and wellness.

Your role as a physical therapist, physical therapy assistant, or DPT student places you in the position of helping all of us who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic. Finding ways to help people move, recover, and manage chronic pain and illness is as vital today as ever before, and you are integral to that effort. Thank you for choosing such a healthcare career that impacts the lives of so many in need.

Importance of Physical Therapy

Physical therapists (PTs) and physical therapy assistants (PTAs) are key members of the healthcare team and specialize in helping people move better, recover from injury, and manage pain. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, careers in physical therapy are expected to grow by 21% through 2030. The ChoosePT campaign for National PT Month is more important than ever because gyms and other recreational facilities have been intermittently shuttered during viral outbreaks throughout the pandemic.

The human body is designed to move, and long periods of inactivity can lead to cardiovascular disease, obesity, weakening of the bones and muscles, and a myriad of mental health issues. Regular physical activity is a critical component of your overall health and a physical therapist can design a treatment plan to address your specific needs.

COVID-19 Impact on Physical Therapists

Like so many others, the physical therapy profession is slowly rebounding from the devastating effects of the pandemic. In a comprehensive report published earlier this year, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) outlined the impact that COVID-19 has had on the PT profession and how practices are struggling to return to pre-pandemic levels. Below are a few of the findings in the APTA report:

Caseload Decline

  • Regarding practice hours, 24% of PTs and 47% of PTAs are still experiencing a decrease in hours compared to pre-pandemic levels. Also, 37% of PTs report that their physician referrals have declined. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), physical therapy was the most severely impacted specialty during the pandemic.

Increase in Symptoms

  • Lockdowns, reduced access, and self-imposed isolation have all contributed to a reduction in physical activity for many individuals. According to the APTA report, 45% of PTs noticed additional symptoms or increased severity of conditions in their patient populations than they experienced pre-pandemic.

Telehealth Adoption

  • One way PT practices worked to overcome the impacts of the pandemic was through a dramatic shift toward telehealth patient consults. Over 48% of PTs are reporting that they have telehealth services available to their patients, compared to only 2% prior to the pandemic. However, as impressive as that shift may seem, physical therapy is still primarily performed in person. Over half of the PTs who responded to the APTA survey state that they are treating one patient or fewer via telehealth on a weekly basis.

Medicare Changes

  • The pandemic had a profound impact on Medicare spending, according to the AMA. In their report, referenced above, overall Medicare spending was 19% below projections in 2020. Although expenditures for PT services suffered more than most, medical specialties experienced a decline across the board. Further complicating the situation for PTs are recent payment reductions adopted by CMS. These fee schedule decreases are slated to be up to 3.6%, with further reductions still being debated.

Physical Therapy Careers

National Physical Therapy Month has arrived at a time where advocating for the benefits of physical therapy is critical. Both for our patient’s well-being and as a means to help the physical therapy profession fully rebound from the impacts of COVID-19.

If you’re looking for new opportunities, consider learning more about how Supplemental Health Care can help. Our dedicated team of recruitment professionals can help you explore opportunities in a variety of physical therapy jobs in different healthcare settings. From schools to long-term care to travel healthcare and clinical settings, Supplemental Health Care has opportunities to support your personal and professional goals. Contact us today to learn more!

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