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Results of a nationwide APTA survey show how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the profession — and sparking changes in care delivery.

The physical therapy profession has experienced some significant setbacks during the COVID-19 pandemic — many of them on a personal level. But results of a new nationwide survey conducted by APTA also reveal how PTs and PTAs are using their resilience to adapt to a changed professional landscape.

APTA summarized results of the survey conducted April 24-May 11 in a new report titled "Impact of COVID-19 on the Physical Therapy Profession." The report is also the first resource to be released using APTA’s new logo and brand, which will be officially adopted in June.

The report, based on a survey results from 6,500 PTs and PTAs across the country, makes it clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacted a literal cost on PTs and PTAs, with 44% of PTs and 54% of PTAs reporting decreased income during the health crisis. Furloughs also were disturbingly high, affecting 17% of PTs and 27% of PTAs. Layoffs were less frequent — though no less troubling — with 5% of PTs and 13% of PTAs reporting job loss.

Although much of the survey was focused on income and employment, respondents also were asked to provide information on the reasons behind clinic closures, use of PPE, telehealth adoption, clinic revenue, and other topics.

Among the Findings

Setting made a difference in reduction in work hours and income.
For PTs, work hour reductions were most common in private outpatient or group practice settings, with 68% of respondents reporting a drop, followed by PTs in home care (65%), and PTs working in hospital-based outpatient facilities or clinics (57%). As for actual income declines, PTAs in home care were hardest hit, with 81% reporting a reduction in income, followed by 66% of PTAs in private outpatient settings. The setting reporting the highest rate of income reduction among PTs was in private outpatient settings, with 65% of respondents reporting a drop.

PTAs were most affected by furloughs — also depending on setting.
PTAs reported furloughs in private outpatient or group practice settings at a rate of 37%, with hospital-based outpatient clinics not far behind at 35%. The private practice clinic setting was also the leading setting for PTs who experienced furloughs, at a rate of 23%.

PTs generally felt they were providing essential treatment.
Only 16% of PTs felt that their employers had asked them to provide PT services they considered nonessential.

The use of telehealth rose dramatically.
According to the report, use of telehealth by PTs was nearly nonexistent prior to the health emergency, with 98% of respondents reporting that they provided no live video consult with patients. The pandemic — and resultant changes to telehealth payment policies and regulations — changed all that. At the time of the survey, 50% of PTs reported using telehealth during the pandemic. The most dramatic change? School system PTs, whose use rose from near 0% levels to a 93% use rate.

When facilities closed, professional judgment was the most common reason.
Practice-owner respondents who closed their clinics during the pandemic overwhelmingly cited professional judgment as the primary reason for make the decision, at 76%. The next most-frequently cited reason was patient cancellations and no-shows, at 48%, followed by mandatory state orders, cited by 40% of practice owners as the top reason for the shutdown.

“This report is a snapshot of a specific moment in time, starting about six weeks after a national emergency was declared,” said APTA CEO Justin Moore, PT, DPT. “We will continue to research this topic, both to measure how this health crisis is affecting our profession and to ensure that our association can respond to pressing needs to support the physical therapy community.” APTA will conduct a follow-up survey sometime in June or July.

Recommendations

The APTA report also makes recommendations for the profession, and recaps recommendations APTA made to Congress involving legislation related to the pandemic and beyond. The recommendations for the profession include:

  • A "better-leveraged" physical therapy workforce through improved patient access to PTs and PTAs.
  • Elimination of direct access restrictions.
  • Universal PT and PTA access to personal protective equipment.
  • Development of long-term strategies for use of telehealth.

A New Look

Readers also may notice something different about the way the report looks. That's because the document is the first to fully reflect APTA's new brand, including use of the association's new logo.

The report provides a sneak peek into changes that will fully take effect in June, changes that will touch nearly every aspect of APTA's products, communications, and messaging.

"This health crisis has put a spotlight on APTA's commitment to serving as the trusted leader for the physical therapy profession," Moore said. "Releasing this report under our new logo, ahead of formal adoption of our brand next month, not only helps us maintain consistency as we release more COVID-19 reports in the future but underscores our readiness to live out our brand promise."


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