To say 2020 has been a challenging year feels like a massive understatement. We’ve experienced the largest health crisis in living memory—and for many of us, that came with significant loss. We’ve seen widespread social and civil unrest. Our social media feeds have been consumed by political drama, attack ads, and heated discussions leading up to one of the most contentious elections in American history. With so much instability—along with quarantine-induced isolation—it’s easy to see why many struggle to find reasons to be thankful this Thanksgiving season. However, I believe positivity is a powerful force—I’ve always been a glass-half-full kind of gal—and no matter how difficult things may seem, there is always something to be grateful for. It’s all about how you frame the situation.
This year, expressing gratitude feels more important than ever. Lately, it’s been too easy to focus on what’s missing—the people we’re not seeing, the places we’re not going, and the things we’re not doing. That’s why it’s incredibly important to focus on gratitude—to notice and appreciate what is valuable and meaningful to you.
1. The pandemic has made us appreciate what’s right in front of us.
I’ve spent most of the last eight months at home, and as anyone who was familiar with my pre-pandemic travel schedule could tell you, being home this much is anything but normal for me. And yet, this slowdown has really been a blessing, as I’ve realized how thankful I am for:
- my wonderful family, whose love, support, and ability to make me laugh have carried me through this year’s most difficult moments;
- my health and the health of those I love;
- friends who have made a great effort to stay connected despite the distance; and
- my WebPT family, who have persevered and remained an incredible resource for our Members during this trying time.
I know that I, personally, have been incredibly lucky. As the world has grappled with seemingly impossible challenges, I’ve retained my health, my family, and my business—and there are far too many individuals who cannot say the same. These stark realizations remind us that we must cherish what we have at any given moment—and not take these things for granted.
2. We’ve proven how powerful our profession is in the face of adversity.
Dale Carnegie once said, “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.” The physical therapy community has lived and breathed this advice in 2020.
At the end of last year, physical therapists—along with many other healthcare providers—were confronted with their first major challenge of 2020: Medicare proposed a 9% payment cut for all PT, OT, and SLP services. Talk about starting off the year with a bang. If that weren’t enough, the pandemic—and the resulting shutdowns—put rehab therapy providers in an even more financially unstable position. Initially, rehab therapists were not universally considered “essential workers,” and that forced many clinics to shut their doors completely. On top of that, inconsistent telehealth rules across states and payers offered therapists zero treatment alternatives. Our industry simply was not set up to offer continuity of care amid a crisis of this caliber.
Then something amazing happened: PTs across the nation banded together and made their voices heard. The result: Not only were PTs added to the list of essential workers, but Medicare—along with other payers and state legislature—also finally created pathways for rehab therapists to deliver virtual and remote services.
Of course, the battle isn’t over yet: we still have the 9% cut looming in the distance—though members of Congress have since joined our cause—and there’s no guarantee that Medicare will continue allowing PTs to provide virtual services beyond this national health crisis. But if nothing else, we have proven that when we take action, we’ll get results—and that’s a sentiment I hope we carry with us well into the new year.
3. We have increased patient access to our services.
Speaking of major changes, I am continuously floored by our profession’s ability to adapt, which leads me to something else I think we can all be thankful for this year. While 2020 has forced many of us to take stock of the things we already have in life, it’s also pushed us to innovate and pivot our approach to patient care and clinic operations. According to an APTA survey, a mere 2% of physical therapists leveraged telehealth prior to the pandemic. By July, “47% reported providing live video consults.” Furthermore, of that 47%, “just under half (45%) treated between one and five patients per week in that manner, 32% treated fewer than one patient per week, 11% treated six to 10 patients per week, and 13% treated more than 10 patients via live consult.”
These numbers paint a very clear picture: patients will absolutely opt for remote services when given the option—particularly when in-person visits are risky or inconvenient. In my opinion, this will continue to be true long after the pandemic. We live in a convenience economy, which is why innovative, consumer-focused businesses like UberEats and Amazon have thrived. And now that patients have gotten a taste of the convenience—and efficacy—of remote physical therapy services, they will undoubtedly continue to ask for them. Now, it’s up to us to incorporate the training, workflows, and practice scope to maximize the benefit of these virtual services.
4. We’ve proven how essential we are.
In terms of population health, 2020 has been a major year for rehab therapists. We know that physical therapy is an essential service for our patients, but COVID-19 has increased the need for PT in more ways than one.
We’ve been instrumental in helping those personally affected by COVID-19 regain their quality of life. As this article from the University of Buffalo states, “At least half of all patients who survive treatment in an intensive care unit will experience at least one of a triad of problems associated with post-intensive care syndrome, or PICS.” The article goes on to reference a factsheet from the American Thoracic Society, which states “PICS can manifest as problems with physical function, cognition, and mental health.” Furthermore, the musculoskeletal consequences of the virus in some patients has made physical therapy essential to overcoming pain and mobility issues.
Beyond treating COVID patients in the recovery phase, the number of American patients with comorbidities (e.g., cardiovascular disease, hypertension, and diabetes) that put them at an increased risk of serious illness underscores the importance of preventive health and education—something PTs are perfectly positioned to provide. In short, this crisis has given us the opportunity to show ourselves—and the world—who we are, what we do, and how we can help in humanity’s greatest moment of need.
5. We’ve opened our minds—and our hearts—to diversity and inclusion.
Amid all the anxiety and uncertainty of the pandemic, the topic of diversity and inclusion has become a major theme for 2020. It is, unfortunately, a divisive topic—and one that is difficult to approach without emotional interference. Despite the heated nature of some of the resulting conversations, I know many have taken this as an opportunity to not only improve their understanding of those who are different from them, but also dig into their own unconscious biases. And in an era rife with contention and confusion, I’ve found empathy and education to be tremendously healing.
At WebPT, for example, we’ve always strived to be inclusive in every sense of the word. But this year, we evaluated our approach to cultivating inclusion by incorporating it into our strategic planning as a priority goal moving forward. In that spirit, we have revamped some of our recruiting processes to eliminate the potential for bias, as well as developed educational resource groups (ERGs) that seek to better understand and educate individuals on a wide range of topics. We’ve formed ERGs dedicated to a variety of themes and communities, from race and gender to faith and veterans. Not only have these ERGs provided a welcoming space for candid conversations, but they’ve also created opportunities for individuals throughout our organization who otherwise might never interact with one another to build meaningful connections.
It’s been a genuinely enlightening, educational, and even cathartic experience, and I look forward to seeing how these groups expand and evolve in the years to come.
Whether you formally express gratitude at Thanksgiving dinner, jot it down in a journal, or meditate on it throughout the holiday season, intentionally recognizing everything you have to be thankful for is good for your mental and physical health—and that’ll help you stay well through the rest of the year (and beyond). Turning our attention to the things we do have rather than what we don’t is tough, but it’s also crucial—now more than ever.