The Future of Health Care


A glimpse into the next 20 years—will advances be game changers?

By Jean Darling, PT, LAT

Health care is changing at a faster pace than any of us could have imagined. Over the next 20 years, accelerated advances in medicine and technology will allow the industry to recalibrate its focus and hone in on health and wellness strategies. Physical therapists must have front row seats for these game-changing trends. Prevention, health coaching, personalized medicine, personal technology, and a team approach must all have time on the playing field.

Prevention will be critical in slowing the soaring costs of health care. I am already seeing a shift to an emphasis on prevention by many insurance companies, some of which are now offering payment for establishing wellness programs. Who is best qualified to direct a wellness-centered movement in our society? Physical therapists.

Many individuals seeking health care through a medical clinic are presenting with multiple issues, ranging from knee pain to high blood pressure to obesity. A physician may recommend that these individuals become more physically active; however, they should first be pointed in our direction. A large number of community members would benefit from a musculoskeletal assessment, to be used as a tool for determining and directing their exercise in an appropriate and safe manner.

Health coaching presented through health care organizations, medical institutions, physical therapy clinics, and health clubs will augment other wellness efforts. Relationships with corporations that take an interest in keeping their employees physically well will also increase and require innovative approaches to answer their employees’ physical needs. Incorporating health and wellness initiatives into the day-to-day lives of corporate employees will enable them to stay healthy and play the game longer.

Personalized medicine should soar with new advances in health care and research-based medicine. With genetic advancements, medicine will become more personalized, as will individual goal setting for patients. Currently, health care professionals are operating in disease-management mode. A shift to more personalized medicine will assist in keeping more people out of hospitals, and, once again, who is highly qualified to take the offensive approach in this arena? Physical therapists!

Personal technology will become more of a factor in helping to keep people out of hospitals by offering remote care. We are already noticing a trend toward “exercise prescriptions” on mobile devices, and general education and nutritional advice is available as well. New personal technology will include applications for modality uses that allow independent use at home. Do not misunderstand me: I am not advising that we remove the human factor from our approach to health care, but I am suggesting that we take into consideration the technology that will offer increased access to services and help. Of course, these developments need to be driven and directed by educated, knowledgeable providers who are following through on appropriate, qualified assessments.

A team approach is a winner in any setting, whether sports or health care, and new advancements in both science and technology during the next 20 years will help expedite a team approach in managing the treatment of an individual. Today, our patients often wait days or weeks for test results, and then they wait for professionals to consult with other health care providers to determine a treatment recommendation. It seems reasonable to assume that in the future treatment will be enhanced as all players on the team will be able to consult more quickly and efficiently to determine the appropriate course for a patient’s care.

I firmly believe that with its recent emphasis on increased education and preparation, physical therapy has positioned itself as a profession to be the catalyst to help propel our nation into a healthier future. Our profession will have unparalleled opportunities to take control of the health and wellness of our nation and, in this game, everyone will be winners.

Jean Darling, PT, LAT, is an Impact editorial board member and co-owner and vice president of Advanced Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine with 6 locations in Wisconsin. She can be reached at

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