As a whole, the United States healthcare industry is going through a substantial growth phase. By the year 2020, it will make up the largest share of jobs across the country. This is happening largely in response to replacing retiring healthcare professionals while caring for an aging population. While overall healthcare is trending towards expansion, there are factors that will affect the industry’s individual sectors in both positive and negative ways. Like most healthcare professions, physical therapy is seeing a considerable amount of growth.
There are over 200,000 physical therapists practicing in the United States today, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that number is projected to grow nearly 30% over the next 7 years. Even considering these figures, there is still expected to be a shortage of practicing PTs, causing an imbalance of supply and demand with various ripple effects.
If you are entering the professional world or looking for a new PT opportunity, it is important to consider all of the factors that are currently affecting the industry (and those that may affect your future).
What is Physical Therapy and Why Do We Need It?
Physical therapy is a rehabilitative healthcare practice which aims to optimize a patient’s range of movements through the use of physical exercise, hands-on therapy and medical equipment. The goal is to educate patients in managing or re-gaining control of their conditions, which may have arisen from injury, illness or disability, to achieve long-term benefits and a higher quality of life.
Physical therapists often choose a specialty, such as geriatrics or orthopedics, because every injury is different and needs to be approached with specific expertise. At least nine-million Americans employ the use of physical therapy a year – and with the way that our population is changing, it is unlikely that number will go down any time soon.
Aging Patient Population
Baby boomers, who are now between the ages of 54 and 72, make up a quarter of the US population, and they aren’t getting any younger. Generation X and millennials are swiftly catching up. As people get older, they are more prone to conditions such as heart attacks, strokes and falls which require post-trauma management and physical therapy. The older population is also choosing to stay more active later in life compared to previous generations. Due to these factors, more people are expected to require physical therapy to avoid later damage.
Currently, the supply of physical therapists is not keeping up with the demand that is needed to comfortably accommodate this growing population’s needs. According to the American Physical Therapy Association, there is going to be a shortage of approximately 29,000 physical therapists until at least 2024.
Aging Physical Therapist Population
Aging and retiring healthcare professionals are also having a huge effect on the industry. Older physical therapists are simultaneously adding to the aging population that will need to be cared for, and leaving the healthcare workforce which is already in short supply. As healthcare professionals begin to retire or take a step back in some capacity from practicing, new PTs have the opportunity to enter the industry. However, even with the approximate 10,000 new physical therapy graduates a year, it still isn’t enough to bridge the glaring gap.
More Health Problems
The incredible advancements that are being made in the world of healthcare allow for a greater number of individuals with birth defects or disabilities to survive. The case is the same for those who have experienced physical trauma later in life. While the increase in survival rate is a wonderful thing, it does require the need for more rehabilitation centers to treat those individuals. In addition, an increase in chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, is also plaguing the United States. In order to manage them, all of these conditions require extra attention and care – most often from the help of physical therapists.
Shorter Hospital Stays
Currently, when a patient falls ill or has surgery, they recuperate in a hospital – but many hospitals are trying to reduce the time spent recovering there when patients could recover elsewhere. This is partly thanks to hospitals implementing enhanced recovery programs for patients.
It is less expensive to have patients begin their recovery in rehabilitation centers or with the help of home care professionals. It also helps them re-establish their independence sooner, which is the main goal of physical therapy. With more patients being redirected to rehabilitation centres for physical therapy at a faster rate than ever before, the need for physical therapists remains high.
Competition Among Physical Therapy Facilities
Since the demand for physical therapists is outweighing the supply, the industry is becoming increasingly competitive for facilities and healthcare professionals alike. In response to the stiff competition that the industry is seeing, facilities need to sell themselves better than ever before. It’s predicted that mid-sized practices will experience the most challenges.
Healthcare facilities will have to place more focus on attracting top talent to their locations and adopt an ‘always hiring’ mentality. Even if there aren’t positions available, they must present the organization in a way that makes candidates eager to work there before a position even opens up. Otherwise, that perfect, coveted PT candidate might slip through the cracks.