Results from a nationwide survey of more than 2,600 consumers suggests a 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.
ATI Physical Therapy, which conducted the survey and released the results, opines that 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, conducted by IdeaFoster in May 2019 on behalf of ATI Physical Therapy, included more than 2,600 respondents. Among them, 1,525 had experience physical therapy in the past. Sixty-one percent of respondents were female, and 32% were male. The majority of respondents fell within the 45-60 age bracket (34%), followed by 18-19 age bracket (26%).

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 3% would choose physical therapy first.

The majority of the survey pool that had experienced physical therapy (61%) also noted they were not aware they could choose to undergo physical therapy without a doctor’s diagnosis or prescription. 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 9% of respondents viewed it as a viable option, according to a media release from ATI Physical Therapy.

“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,” says Nate Bard, ATI’s chief growth officer, in the release.

“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 the 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 the consumer insights on transparency in cost and care and decision-making factors, per the release:

  • 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,” Bard continues. “Before x-rays, MRIs, and opioids, can physical therapy be a viable, cost-effective option? We know it can.”

[Source: ATI Physical Therapy]