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It’s Time for PTs to Commandeer the National Spotlight

October 28, 2019 • Advocacy • Heidi Jannenga

The I consider myself extremely fortunate to have found my particular career path, because I belong to a relatively small community of professionals who genuinely love the work that they do. Finding satisfaction and fulfillment in the workplace is difficult for many (Gallup actually estimates that more than half of US workers are “not engaged” at work), but I have never questioned my decision to be a PT. And it’s no wonder; devoting your life to helping others heal is rewarding and fulfilling, and altruistic professions attract some of the best colleagues. That’s why, even though I’m no longer working directly with patients, I still delight in working with the rehab therapy community, and I’m proud to positively impact patients’ healthcare journeys in any way I can.

The only place our industry falls short, and it’s something that I’ve dedicated my career to fixing, is in recognition. There are too many patients and providers who don’t understand and appreciate what we do, which is a big part of the reason why 90% of patients who could benefit from physical therapy never seek us out. That’s a failure we need to own, because it’s on us to educate the general public, potential patients, other healthcare practitioners, and even payers, on who we are and what we’re capable of. Make no mistake: I am so proud of our profession. I am proud of the progress PTs have made over the years to prove our value, but I believe we need to do more. It’s time to commandeer the healthcare spotlight and make a name for ourselves on a national stage.

The rehab therapy industry is finally in a good position to make some waves.

Our industry is bigger and better than ever before, and we’re in the perfect position to continue along that growth path. And I’m not being hyperbolic. Last year, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported that employment of physical therapists was due to grow 22% over the next ten years due to an aging boomer population and a growing number of Americans who suffer from chronic illnesses. Our patient pool is expanding, and our country is going to have a deep, undeniable need for musculoskeletal experts. And here’s the real kicker: those growth statistics don’t even factor in the potential weight of the opioid epidemic.

The opioid epidemic is widespread and unequivocally devastating, and it uproots and destroys lives in ways that many people cannot even fathom. In an opioid awareness video published by the CDC, a mother read a note written by her late son about his prescription: “At first it was a lifeline, now it is a noose around my neck.” This story horrifies me as a parent. This woman’s son died because he sought help for his pain and was given the wrong solution. No one should ever lose a loved one like that.

Different versions of this tragic story crop up multiple times every single day in households across the country. In 2016, the CDC published findings revealing that 11.5 million Americans misused their prescription opioids that year, and that between 1999 and 2017, nearly 218,000 people died from overdoses of prescription opioids. Now, more than ever, as the public becomes more aware and concerned about this problem, healthcare providers are under intense pressure to find alternatives to opioid prescriptions. We can be that alternative. Physical therapy is an ideal safe, conservative pain management treatment. We can stop these tragic and untimely deaths in their tracks. We just need to get everyone’s attention, and we can do that by growing our footprint and banding together to expand our reach.

Some PT organizations are already taking advantage of this growth potential. We’re seeing rehab therapy companies acquire and open up clinics left and right. The good news? That rapid business expansion can help usher PTs to the national stage. In many ways, it already has.

The Inc. 5000 list honored several PT organizations this year.

For those of you who are unaware, the Inc. 5000 is a list of the 5,000 “fastest-growing privately held companies in the United States.” Getting on the list each year is a tough ticket (the qualifications are pretty demanding), and entries are accepted from businesses across every industry and discipline. Needless to say, it gets pretty competitive. However, I am thrilled to report that nine separate rehabilitative therapy clinics and companies rose to the challenge and earned a coveted spot on this year’s list.

These ambitious practices put themselves out there and helped make a name for PTs across the country. We would be remiss not to recognize what a monumental achievement this is, so how about a round of virtual applause for these standout PT organizations:

I am thrilled to see PTs get some visibility in the business space, and outside of the rehab therapy field in general. I think it’s a great way for us to turn talk into action and turn some heads at the national level. I want more therapists and practices to pursue these types of opportunities, and I deeply encourage all of you to just take the leap. The Inc. 5000 list is a great place to start. If you do meet the requirements, entering your organization into the running isn’t all that difficult; all you need to do is dedicate a little time to completing the application at the beginning of the year. That’s all it takes, and it’s a great opportunity to help rehab therapists make a splash in the wider business community.

National recognition comes in all shapes and sizes.

If the Inc. 5000 list isn’t exactly your cup of tea because your organization isn’t big enough or hasn’t grown enough to be eligible, don’t sweat it. You don’t have to be big to think big; there are other ways to stake your claim to fame in the wider healthcare sphere, and thus, help solidify the value and legitimacy of the PT voice. For example, you could try to land a speaking gig at an event near you, perhaps a local TEDx talk, or at a regional or national conference like HIMSS20 (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society’s upcoming conference) or Mayo Transform(the Mayo Clinic’s annual conference). I personally just had the pleasure of presenting at Mayo Transform on physical therapy’s role in solving the opioid crisis. It was an amazing experience, and I can tell you that my insights as a musculoskeletal expert were received with enthusiasm by other healthcare professionals. I know I created some new rehab therapy evangelists and forged some relationships that will help move the needle on that 90%.

If you’re not too keen on public speaking, you could contribute articles to general healthcare publications, or even consumer-facing outlets like Science Daily, News Medical, or the opinion section of your local newspaper. One physical therapist recently wrote an article that was published in The American Journal of Managed Care, a peer-reviewed medical journal that’s read by practitioners across many different healthcare specialties. But, you don’t have to write about clinical care for a medical journal like the AJMC or the Mayo Clinic Proceedings to get noticed. You could write a piece for a less-clinical outlet like Modern Healthcare or Healthcare Innovation Group. (Becker’s Hospital Review even published one of my articles that I wrote about burnout in health care!) The opportunities are limitless, if you have the ideas and expertise to back it all up.

The more exposure PTs get, the bigger our sphere of influence.

That’s really our goal here. We need more visibility if we want patients, physicians, and payers alike to understand and rally behind the benefits of conservative, non-invasive care paths. We need new rehab therapy evangelists. The biggest barrier that’s in our way is a lack of collective understanding about what we can offer patients with neuromusculoskeletal issues. Rehab therapy is cheaper and more effective than surgery and opioids, and it can help prevent recurring injuries. In other words, it puts patients on a long-term path toward living healthy, functional, pain-free lives. So, it’s absolutely devastating to me that the vast majority of the general population doesn’t know that’s true. And the only way that’s going to change is if we get more exposure outside of our own circles and echo chambers.

It’s time for rehab therapists to commandeer the national spotlight. Our time is now; with the opioid crisis, we’re in a unique position to seize national attention and showcase our value as pain management specialists, especially when it comes to neuromuscular pain. We have a message that could seriously improve the overall health of our country, and I would argue that it’s our duty to make sure that the message gets out there.



We have the power to help so many people, but we must get their attention first, and we must be willing to work together and rally around this common message. Who’s in?

Heidi Jannenga

Heidi Jannenga, PT, DPT, ATC, is the co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer of WebPT, the leading practice management solution for physical, occupational, and speech therapists. Heidi advises on WebPT’s product vision, company culture, branding efforts and internal operations, while advocating for the rehab therapy profession on a national and international scale. She’s an APTA member,...

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