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Physical Therapists, It’s Time We Focus on our Future

September 24, 2018 • Practice Leadership • Heidi Jannenga

I’ve been writing a lot about the importance of using data as a catalyst for building relationships with other healthcare stakeholders, both providers and payers, as well as for increasing awareness around physical therapy in general. Well, there’s no better time to really embrace that effort than right now. We are, after all, on the cusp of National PT Month. And we are also in the midst of an opioid epidemic, one that’s currently getting a considerable amount of airplay. As a result, physicians and insurers are under greater pressure to solve this crisis, and PTs are perfectly positioned to be part of the solution. They say timing is everything, and now is the perfect time to seize this opportunity.

PTs are uniquely well-qualified to improve function without drugs.

As I wrote here, we’re uniquely well-qualified to help those patients who have not yet received the care they need to experience improved function and movement (without the risk of continued drug dependence). We also have the opportunity to reach an even wider population of patients who are experiencing functional deficits, before they even consider taking painkillers. After all, as it stands, only about 10% of people who could benefit from physical therapy end up receiving it. That’s tragic. It also means there’s a huge untapped market of people who need us. And to reach them, we’ve got to up our game when it comes to owning our value and communicating it, objectively, with data, including outcomes and patient loyalty data.

It’s up to us to ensure that patients, providers, and payers understand our value.

That’s the only way we’re ever going to overcome our awareness problem: by ensuring that patients, providers, and payers understand what we do and why we do it. Otherwise, they’re going to continue to choose treatments that appear easier, or faster, than physical therapy. But while we all seem to be on the same page about the need to communicate our value to patients, I’ve gotten some serious backlash when it comes to communicating our value to payers and physicians. I know, some of you have hit walls when attempting to develop fruitful relationships with MDs who don’t seem particularly interested in understanding the benefits of physical therapy, or, worse yet, want to buy your practice because they think they can do it better. And even more of you have been treated poorly by insurance companies. Declining reimbursements, increased reporting requirements, and decreased referrals are hard to swallow. I’ll give you all that.

We must be willing to build mutually beneficial relationships with healthcare stakeholders, regardless of our past experiences.

But, this is truly a new era, one in which we are empowered with data, so that’s no reason to become jaded; it’s no reason to refuse to even entertain the prospect of building new, mutually beneficial relationships with insurance companies, especially if that’s what it’s going to take to elevate our profession to the next level. We need to keep our eyes on the horizon and stop looking in the rearview mirror. It is the only way we’re going to reach our potential as an industry, and reach those patients who need us.

There’s good news ahead.

The good news is that things are changing. The conversations we have with payers, and other providers, can be very different than those we’ve had in the past, because we now have the ability to collect and present objective data proving our value. And we have firsthand accounts of practices that have been able to negotiate favorable payer contracts thanks to the outcomes data they brought to the table.

We owe it to ourselves, our patients, and future PTs to continue pressing forward.

WebPT recently completed our annual state of rehab therapy survey, and we found that while PTs by and large enjoy their jobs, particularly helping patients, most are nervous about where the profession (and health care) is heading. Many also said they were hesitant to recommend physical therapy to young people. And that’s just sad, especially considering that the segment of patients who need our services is only going to grow. Well, right now, we have the opportunity to create the future we want for ourselves, and all the PTs who come after us.

To do so, though, we must stop being reactive and start being proactive. We must stop telling the story of the big, bad insurance companies that are “out to get us”, and the physicians who don’t understand us. We must learn the system and use it to our advantage. We must get to know payer and provider needs and address them, with data. We must break free of the past and start telling a more empowering narrative of our ability to create the change in our industry we want to see, for us and our patients. It’s high-time we stop playing the victim, and start being our own hero.

So, here’s my proposal: let’s put a moratorium on bad-mouthing payers and other providers. Let’s stop retelling the same tired story about the problems we face as an industry, and instead focus on the solutions. Those are the conversations that are going to define our next era, because they will produce the strategies we need to implement in order to be truly successful.



About the Author

Heidi Jannenga PT, DPT, ATC/L is the president and co-founder of WebPT, the leading practice management solution for physical, occupational, and speech therapists. Heidi leads WebPT’s product vision, company culture, and branding efforts, while advocating for the physical therapy profession on a national scale. She co-founded WebPT after recognizing the need for a more sophisticated industry-specific EMR platform and has since guided the company through exponential growth, while garnering national recognition. Heidi brings with her more than 15 years of experience as a physical therapist and multi-clinic site director as well as a passion for healthcare innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership.

An active member of the sports and private practice sections of the APTA, Heidi advocates for independent rehab therapy businesses, speaks as a subject-matter expert at industry conferences and events, and participates in local and national technology, entrepreneurship, and women-in-leadership seminars. In 2014, Heidi was appointed to the PT-PAC Board of Trustees. She also serves as a mentor to physical therapy students and local entrepreneurs and leverages her platform to promote the importance of diversity, company culture, and overall business acumen for private practice rehab therapy professionals.

Heidi was a collegiate basketball player at the University of California, Davis, and remains a lifelong fan of the Aggies. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and exercise physiology, went on to earn her master’s degree in physical therapy at the Institute of Physical Therapy in St. Augustine, Florida, and obtained her doctorate of physical therapy through Evidence in Motion. When she’s not enjoying time with her daughter Ava, Heidi is perfecting her Spanish, practicing yoga, or hiking one of her favorite Phoenix trails.

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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Phil Gainan

Commented • September 27, 2018

I agree with Tim regarding the pharmaceutical/ medical profession. I believe it is an uphill battle. Not that it can't slowly be changed one happy patient at a time. If practitioners can show the patients through correct, effective, safe treatments; than over time they will be demanding to go the non drug route.

Tim Mondale

Commented • September 26, 2018

Oy Vey Heidi, Respectfully, you're a good writer, and a clearly thoughtful and passionate professional. However: It's not about playing the victim, it's about playing the patsie. We need to take an assertive message right to the consumers, who in tern will carry it most effectively to legislatures, insurance companies, and their doctors offices. How is it that we think practicing medicine became synonymous with prescribing pharmaceuticals? Big Pharma promoted it as such...ask your doctor? (about drug a,b,c). I dutifully pay my APTA dues every year; I'd love to see some/most of it to go to regional and national promotional campaigns. Feels like we keep going back over the same ground and expecting different and better things to happen. Tim

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