National Survey Finds Consumers Need Education on Physical Therapy’s Benefits, as First Treatment Option for Musculoskeletal Pain
Survey commissioned by ATI Physical Therapy finds gap in understanding of physical therapy’s potential to lower total healthcare spend for musculoskeletal treatment, shows direct access to physical therapy can save patients more than $1,500
ATI Physical Therapy, the largest privately held physical therapy company in the U.S., today released results from a nationwide survey of more than 2,600 consumers, which found that there is severe lack of awareness and understanding of the benefits physical therapy provides for pain, injury and musculoskeletal (MSK) issues, in general, and when used as a first choice among healthcare options. There is an opportunity and need to better educate patients, and the healthcare market, on when to engage physical therapy that could lead to better quality of care, better outcomes and a cost reduction across the healthcare spectrum.
The survey assessed consumer knowledge of when to engage physical therapy services in general and specifically for musculoskeletal (MSK) pain as well as what factors impact their decision. When asked where they would go first for treatment to relieve back pain or discomfort, the majority of respondents (64%) chose primary care or specialty physician, while less than three percent would choose physical therapy first.
The majority of the survey pool that had experienced physical therapy (more than 1,500 of the 2,600 respondents) also noted they were not aware they could choose to undergo physical therapy without a doctor’s diagnosis or prescription (61%). Currently, all 50 states allow some level of physical therapy services without a prescription. For physical therapy as a preventative care option before symptoms get worse, less than nine percent of respondents viewed it as a viable option.
Patients in the U.S. spend an estimated $80 to $100 billion easing aching back pain or related MSK issues. Yet, 70 percent of MSK problems do not need more than physical therapy to reach optimal outcomes and function. Studies have shown that when patients go to physical therapy initially for back or neck pain it results in lower costs of care over the next year – up to $1,550, while resulting in similar, if not better, improvements in patient outcomes. Additional studies have shown patients whom visit a PT earlier in the care process have lowered the probability of needing opioid prescriptions (89%), advanced imaging services (27%) and emergency department visits (14%).
“With consumers picking up a bigger portion of healthcare costs these days, ATI believes consumers deserve and want transparency around treatment options for MSK-related issues,” said Nate Bard, ATI’s Chief Growth Officer. “This survey helps us better understand the opportunities and challenges ATI, and the industry face, on how to better educate consumers, and the healthcare market, on value physical therapy can provide earlier in the healthcare equation to help lower costs on all fronts and still deliver exceptional outcomes.”
The survey also revealed some interesting consumer insights on transparency in cost and care and decision-making factors.
- It was more important to consumers that they had a clear understanding of what the underlying issue was for the cause of their pain (38%) versus merely receiving a permanent resolution to the issue (12%)
- The number of consumers looking for a clear and concise treatment plan was almost double of those desiring a quick fix when it comes to what they are seeking in healthcare providers.
- When asked what patients hope to achieve through physical therapy, a clear majority of respondents are seeking an improved quality of life (47%), over getting back to work (11%), hobbies or leisure activity (10%).
- When it comes to deciding where to go for physical therapy, the most important factor for both healthcare and physical therapy treatment was the insurance and billing coverage (71%). A location close to home (60%); physician recommendation (51%); and friend recommendation (38%) made up the top four reasons for consumers.
“As healthcare costs continue to rise, ATI believes there is a better way to treat the majority of patients with MSK-related issues,” continued Bard. “Before X-rays, MRIs and opioids, can physical therapy be a viable, cost-effective option? We know it can.”
About the Survey:
The national survey was conducted in May 2019 by IdeaFoster on behalf of ATI Physical Therapy. More than 2,600 consumers took part in the survey and of that group, 1,525 had experience physical therapy in the past. Sixty-one percent of respondents were female and 32% male. The majority of respondents fell within the 45-60 age bracket (34%), followed by 18-19 age bracket (26%).
About ATI Physical Therapy
ATI is a privately held, nationally recognized healthcare company, specializing in outpatient rehabilitation and adjacent healthcare services. With a focus on delivering a remarkable experience to every patient, every day, ATI has more than 800 locations from coast to coast. ATI was named “Best Physical Therapy Practice in the Nation” by ADVANCE magazine, and was one of the first physical therapy companies in the country to achieve URAC Core Accreditation, a mark of distinction that recognizes its commitment to quality healthcare. Based in Bolingbrook, Illinois, ATI gives back to communities across the country through the ATI Foundation, a non-profit established by ATI, which has provided more than $4 million in resources and funding to children with physical impairments. For more information on ATI Physical Therapy, and a complete list of clinic locations, services and the ATI Foundation, please visit ATIpt.com.