Why Physiotherapy Students Should Learn About Business

Updated: Jul 5, 2018

Let me paint you a picture. We live in a world where there is a growing trend toward obesity and a host of other chronic diseases that significantly drop the overall health status of the North American population. You could attribute most of this tendency to eating unhealthy foods leading to consumption of empty calories. Stressful jobs are pushing people to focus more on their work rather than their own health. This ultimately forces them to be sedentary for most of the day as well. There are plenty of additional factors at play but the main message is that there is a growing trend toward overeating and sedentary lifestyle for children and adults.


I’ve painted a fairly grim picture but this is the reality which surrounds us today. It is not our fault that we live in these conditions but it is our duty, as physiotherapy students, to help our patients and their families overcome these challenges. Chronic diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease are on the rise. This article from 2009 by Rosner Preis et al. shows the increasing trends of diabetes and cardiovascular disease over time. Additionally, incidence of chronic musculoskeletal conditions like osteoarthritis is skyrocketing and people are opting for joint replacements. Another 2017 study by Wallace et al. demonstrates that knee OA doubled in the post industrial era in the United States. There is a massive strain on the hospitals to process a lot of patients at a fast pace. Due to a limited amount of hospital resources, many patients are being sent to their community physiotherapists. In the physiotherapy profession, a large portion of students will end up working in private practice, instead of hospitals. In 2007, 42% of all physiotherapists in Canada were working in the private sector (CIHI report 2016) and the most recent stat from 2016 shows that this number has jumped to 52.7%. This means that currently, more than half of the physiotherapists work in the private sector full time! These statistics are likely to continue to grow.


So, what does this all have to do with business? We need to understand that within healthcare, we need more than clinical skills to bring forth positive patient outcomes and improve the lives of the individuals in the community. It is also essential that we understand that most of healthcare operates as a business. One of the Foundation Physiotherapy co-founders, Matthew Laing (podcast episode here), said it best, “Physio students need to understand that health care, including physiotherapy, is a commodity. Your therapy and interpersonal skills and the experience you provide are a product that is delivered to a client - regardless of working in a public or private environment. Learning about ‘business’ allows you to leverage your skills and relationships to improve your career and your bottom line; but also the care and results you provide to your clients.”


Our profession, physiotherapy, will also require us not only to evolve clinically but we need to develop the business skills and understand that we are in the business of people. There are currently two matters about which we can be certain of. One of which is that physiotherapy is perfectly positioned to take on the challenges facing the healthcare system in Canada. Secondly, physiotherapy is shifting towards the private sector and there are plenty of opportunities to help out individuals in the community through this medium.


Let’s talk about the private sector. This is the place where you can implement your ideas about changing physiotherapy right away. Why? Because the burden of bureaucratic systems to slow down decision making is not as apparent. You are not faced with the problem of trying to satisfy multiple stakeholders. If you have an idea and the resources, you are able to execute it using your knowledge, skills and your drive to succeed.

You, as a student, can have the next big idea that takes our profession to the higher level and hopefully, everybody will benefit from it! To execute your plan, you have to develop your business acumen in order to allocate your resources appropriately for the creation of the final product (i.e. a unique clinic with specific type of care model or an interesting product for healthcare).


For those of you who are not interested in operating your own clinic or making new products, most of you will end up working in the private sector in some form or another. This means, in addition to the clinical skills, you need to understand operations, marketing, sales, and customer service to better position yourself for employment. You need to understand how you have to tailor your service of physiotherapy to provide the best quality of care for patients and ensuring that the clinic thrives financially. You have to be knowledgeable about key performance metrics like patient satisfaction and knowing how many of your patients are self-discharging from your caseload. All of this requires a base level of business acumen. And the winds of change are definitely coming. In fact, we are in the midst of this change right now.


The bottom line is that our current healthcare model is shifting to the private sector of physiotherapy. You could offer your services in your own clinic, as a self-employed professional or you could come up with a new product or tech startup to improve the level of physiotherapy service in our country. However, this all requires some knowledge of business. The sooner you start educating and developing yourself, the sooner you will put yourself in a position to thrive and be the next leader in our profession!


Stay tuned for more blog posts like this one coming to our special student series! #PTBCStudentSeries



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