The InPractice 2025 report, recently published by the Australian Physiotherapy Association provides a comprehensive look at the opportunities and challenges physiotherapy practice will face over the next decade. The report is some of the most comprehensive reading you will need to do this year. I think every physio should familiarise themselves with it. The report prompted me to go back through some earlier InMotion articles (the official magazine of the APA) I’d kept for blog research. Somewhat relevant to the findings of the 2025 report was a feature piece from May 2012, “Physiotherapy and the Economic Environment”. It was in reference to the Australian and global economic outlook on physiotherapy spending. In the context of the article (which centres on the GFC), one of the underlying messages is that healthcare is perennially recession proof. I’d say, at present….”debatable”. How much can change in a couple of short years….Are we telling the same story today? Would be great to get others’ thoughts on this.
The article reports that the Australian healthcare sector has been in a relatively healthy state, with good job prospects for physio new grads. Overseas, the situation tells of a different story with physiotherapists in Great Britain and other EU nations struggling with budgetary constraints, the Euro Zone debt crisis and less jobs available on the whole. In the USA, while jobs might be available, they are dealing with remuneration reviews by insurance companies and third party payers. Long story short, jobs….yes, well paid….not really. This story becomes even more relevant to us now, as it may appear that the recent budget handed down and healthcare system reforms could push the Australian physiotherapy industry down a similar path. This is the reason why I’m revisiting that article in writing this piece.
Coming from a private practice background, it’s apparent that some clinicians, businesses, etc are going through tougher times. Whilst we in Australia were seemingly blanketed by the direct effects of the GFC, our current economic climate may mean our time in the sun could be coming to an end. Patients may still come through the door but numbers can be less predictable, and they are certainly becoming more dollar conscious, asking themselves “do I need that extra appointment?”. The two potential factors that should continue to prop up demand for primary health services that come to mind are Australia’s ageing population and increased incidence of chronic disease.
I did appreciate the piece in InMotion and I enjoyed reading the 2025 report even more so. Even re-reading them both side by side, it’s refreshing and reassuring to see that the APA acknowledges the macro-economic environment, rather than suggesting that the world is a rosy place and that there aren’t physios realising less profits or even worse, looking for jobs.
My question however, is this….
Other than GFCs, recessions, budgetary cuts and policy changes closer to home, what else could be impacting spending on healthcare (i.e. physiotherapy services)? The 2025 report did a good job at highlighting certain influential variables. One of which was technology. Coming from my current position researching e-health, I may be biased but I’d like to focus on this for now…
It’s always interesting to try and articulate as briefly as possible that my PhD investigates the ways in which social media can be optimised in the effective management of chronic illness. Background research suggests that more and more people are turning to the Internet to search for health related information (from treatments, to reviews on services, providers, to connect with others…you name it). Commonly referred to research shows that 8 of 10 are doing exactly this, with a robust number also utilising social media*. While I‘m careful not to insinuate these findings are generalizable to the entire globe, it is an emergent trend . From personal experience and that of colleagues, I have definitely noticed a shift in relatively few short years towards empowered Internet-informed patients. The level of “informed”, or exactly how much this occurs aren’t within the scope of this post, but they are informed none the less. Have you had similar experiences?? I’d love to know.
If this is the case, then suffice to say that in combination to the aforementioned suggested reasons for constrained spending , digital connectedness may also play a big part. That’s partly why I’d like to see the APA and healthcare industry at large ensure technology stays high on their agendas.
Recessions may come and go, budgets and policies chop and change, but technology is here to stay and constantly evolving. If that’s the case, is less spending on physical health services going to become a trend as more and more people turn to self-tracking with mobile devices and use of social networks to connect about their conditions? Only time will tell.
I’d welcome what physiotherapists (or, other clinicians) think? Drop me a message, tweet, comment, etc.
Mark Merolli, illorem
*Fox, S. (2011). “The Social Life of Health Information.” Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved , Oct 2011, from http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1989/health-care-online-social-network-users.