Demand for Physical Therapists on the Rise, After Healthcare Reform and Aging Baby Boomers

Physical therapists are preparing for a potential employment “boom.”

New analyst project physical therapy will be one of the top growing occupations in America – and Georgia – suggesting a positive employment outlook for future and current physical therapists.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, physical therapy jobs are projected to increase nationally 39 percent by 2020 – more than double the average for all other occupations.

CNNMoney also recently released its annual “100 Best Jobs in America” report, and physical therapy was featured on the list for the fourth year in a row, landing at 8.

These numbers are also reflected in the Georgia job market, where there are 4,310 active physical therapist licensees and 1,236 physical therapist assistant licensees, according to Georgia Secretary of State’s Board of Physical Therapy.

But with Georgia’s unemployment rate hovering around 8.7 percent, why the sudden surge in demand for physical therapists?

Continued enactment of the Obama administration’s Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act, passed in 2010, is one of several factors contributing to the rising role of the physical therapy occupation.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that following full implementation of healthcare reform, an additional 31 million individuals will be able to obtain health care services.  As the number Americans with health insurance increases, the demand for therapy services will also grow.

In addition, a provision in the Affordable Care Act requires Americans to have access to a core package of health care services, known as the “essential health benefits.”

These “essential health benefits” must include items and services within, at a minimum, the following 10 categories:

  1. Ambulatory patient services
  2. Emergency services
  3. Hospitalization
  4. Maternity and newborn care
  5. Mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment
  6. Prescription drugs
  7. Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices
  8. Laboratory services
  9. Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management
  10. Pediatric services, including oral and vision care

The “rehabilitative and habilitative services” essential health benefit falls directly into the scope of practice for physical therapists, who are highly trained to provide the best evidence-based treatment and rehabilitation for movement disorders.

Although many provisions of health care reform went into effect immediately upon passage, many regulations for other portions are still being developed and will not go into effect until January 1, 2014.

And while that transition will take place over the next two years, another contributing factor will simultaneously occur that further contributes to the employment growth – an aging baby boomer population.

On a national level, the American Orthopaedic Association anticipates that by 2020, 16.3 percent of the U.S. population will be 65 or older, which is double the current number.

And on a regional level, data from the 2010 U.S. Census indicates that by 2030, one in five metro Atlantans will be older than 60, increasing the vital role physical therapists will play in elderly patient care, recovery, rehabilitation and habilitation.

Physical therapists routinely develop customized programs for elderly patients to reduce the risk of injury, while enhancing balance and increasing long-term mobilization.

Fortunately, there is a natural interest in pursuing physical therapy as a career to help fill the rapidly growing number of available employment opportunities and patient demand.

Data from the American Physical Therapy Association indicates that between the 2004 and 2009 academic years, the number of applicants for physical therapist education programs increased, on average, by 110 percent and actual enrollments increased by 45.3 percent.

As the need for physical therapists steadily grows, the number of trained physical therapists will need to simultaneously increase to meet rising demand.

While there is much uncertainty in the evolving health care world, it is clear that physical therapists will play an important role in the delivery of the health care system both nationally and locally.

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