An aching, aging population will provide plenty of biz for physical therapists

by May 6, 2014

Amid ongoing coverage of a tepid jobs market, it’s difficult to ignore on that offers double-digit growth in the coming years:  The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics is forecasting that demand for physical therapists will grow a whopping 36 percent between 2012 and 2022.

Physical therapy fall prevention

A physical therapist at Lawrence (Kansas) Memorial Hospital leads older adults in a fall prevention program. Photo: Karrey Britt

According to the BLS, the median physical therapist — “help injured or ill people improve their movement and manage their pain” –earns about $80,000 a year, and in the next eight years the industry will need some 70,000 more.   There are barriers to entry — a doctoral degree and state licensure is usual for practitioners; although until 2017 a master’s degree may suffice — but the job options thereafter are varied, as U.S. News & World Report highlighted in its “Best Health Care Jobs” feature which said physical therapist jobs offer lower than average stress and greater than average employment flexibility.   The BLS outlook for PT assistants and aides is excellent as well, with nearly 50,000 more jobs forecast between 2012-2022 and median pay of around $40,000 per year.

As an industry, the business of physical therapy is poised to rebound, according to a recent IBISWorld market analysis report.  As this press release notes, a decline in Medicare reimbursements prompted a lot of industry consolidation in recent years but the expectation of higher Medicare rates plus the continued aging of the U.S. population is expected to drive overall industry growth in coming years.  (You can request the full IBISWorld report from the company’s media relations staff.)  The industry averages a better than 10 percent profict margin.

Another research report, from Harris Williams & Co., is even more optimistic; it projects 7 percent annual growth through 2018 and notes that the fragmented market still is dominated by small players.  That means lots of interesting small business angles for local reporteres and a good opportunity to see how future merger & acquistion activity plays out.

Spending on physical therapy to help people improve or recover mobility, or to ease pain, is huge — as this recent New York Times piece points out, it’s a huge portion of Medicare spending alone.    If you want to replicate it locally, check out the newly released Medicare payment data for 2012; obviously it covers many medical specialties beyond physical therapy.

Technology is another area worthy of coverage; from anti-gravity treadmills to robot-assisted walking for people with spinal cord injuries to  computer-aided therapy programs for stroke patients, medical technology continues to advance; check with area bitoech firms, PT practices and university bio-medical research units for the latest experimental treatments.

And of course, in a society that spends $56 billion a year on pets, the animal tie-in is always of interest:  Can you find the local version of this Providence Journal photo essay about a facility that offers physical therapy to animals?