The Future of Physical Therapy

crystal ball see into the future

The Right Care at the Right Time, in the Right Way

By Jerry L. Henderson, PT*
November 2017

People ask me all the time what I see as the future of physical therapy (PT). On a rainy, early morning while waiting in line at my favorite coffee house, I envision a future where my mocha raspberry Frappuccino is delivered by drone to my patio before I even open my laptop. In this future, politicians and payers aren’t playing whack-a-mole with the health care of the American people; instead, the issue of how to pay for health care has been resolved so everyone can receive and afford the care they need.

In this future, opioids aren’t the first thing doctors and patients turn to for managing pain, and surgeons’ licenses can be suspended for performing surgery on a patient with nonspecific, chronic low back pain. Instead, care providers and patients all understand how therapy can lead to less reliance on opioids, fewer surgeries, better outcomes, happier patients, and lower costs.

In the future, thanks to technologies like electronic medical record (EMR) systems and patient engagement and care coordination tools, I’ll be able to be more productive and responsive to my patients. In essence, it will be easier for me to deliver the right care, at the right time, in the right way to my clients. I won’t be isolated from other caregivers and can coordinate with them in real time to ensure patients are receiving the care they need at the right cost. Plus, technology will allow my patients to engage more than ever in their care, which growing evidence shows leads to better outcomes—and again, happier patients.

These may seem like wistful musings, but most of it isn’t that far-fetched or too distant in the future. I’m optimistic for a golden age of physical therapy. In fact, here are some of the things I see in the not so far off future that could help us all.

PT Will Continue to Grow

This is not exactly a bold prediction: Experts agree that the demand for our services will continue to increase due in part to aging baby boomers. In fact, employment of physical therapists is projected to grow 34 percent from 2014 to 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is much faster than the average for all occupations. Even if new people join our profession, there is no way that we will be able to keep up with increasing demand without dramatic improvements in how efficiently we can provide care.

PT Will Get Its Due

Physical therapy is getting increased recognition as a provider of real value. As we shift toward alternative payment models and away from fee for service, providing effective, evidence-based physical therapy will be a key to success in many of these models.

Value-Based Care Will be for Real

The transition to value is happening, and the pace of the change is accelerating. You need to look no further than the 32 November/December 2017 Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation page to get a good idea of what the future holds.

EMR Systems Will Integrate Interoperability

Interoperability of EMR systems has been a long-standing promise that has yet to be fully realized. In a value-based world, there will be more incentives for system interoperability. Plus, with a large portion of our population receiving their care from more than one provider, physician, or type of location, the promise of interoperability between EMRs has the chance to transform health care. Interoperability will enable us to break down health care data silos and truly support patient-centered care across the care continuum.

Technology Will Enable Patient-Centered Care

Related to the increasing demand for our services, telehealth technology and the Internet of things will allow us to more easily monitor patient adherence to, and progress on, their plan of care. Not only will this allow us to remain connected to patients between visits, but it will also enable us to effectively manage a population of patients at lower costs. Advancements in mobile applications and wearables will take off, making it easier for patients to actively participate in their care outside the office while simultaneously providing therapists more accurate and complete data to remotely monitor progress and make care decisions.

Improved Communication Will Foster Patient Engagement and Care Coordination

Working effectively in this new paradigm will require effective patient engagement and coordination of a patient’s care across care silos. Secure, instant communication with all the stakeholders (patient, family, other providers, payers) will become critical.

Jerry L. Henderson, PT, is vice president of clinical strategy at Clinicient. He can be reached at

* The author has a vested interest in the subject of this article.

Copyright © 2018, Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association. All Rights Reserved.

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