Drivers of Change in Physiotherapy

In India, Physiotherapy had pretty much been forgotten; till recently! Two trends are driving the emergence of physiotherapy centres that have emerged in various urban Indian cities.

One, the lifespan of Indians has increased steadily. A large ageing population, with many beset by chronic conditions has meant an increased need for mobility related treatment, rehabilitation and ongoing care. The health care needs of India’s population are therefore shifting in significant ways, driving greater demand for both traditional health services and specialisations such as physiotherapy.

The second important one being the realisation that people no longer just want to be well, they want to be active too. Tired of a sedentary lifestyle many urban Indians are taking to sport and are increasingly visiting gyms, going for runs or walks. Sports related injuries, gym injuries plus a desire for enhanced functioning are a driving motivation.

What will this mean for physiotherapists in India? What will the landscape look like in a few years?

Shifting from dealing with “patients” to interacting with people (before they actually become patients) is a trend that is emerging. In the recent past this has been seen in the growth of diagnostic testing. While over testing has also lead to over treatment and aggressive medical procedures the new trend of wearable medical devices is expected to be different.

The quantified self movement is expected to radically disrupt healthcare by constantly monitoring people via a slew of always on monitoring devices and services. Physiotherapy and wellness services will then play a key role in keeping people fit and healthy. Regular physio checkups the way we go for regular dental check ups, could pretty much become the norm.

Occupational health services and Ergonomics could become a big area as employers begin to realise that a healthy and fit workforce is critical to the enterprise of the future.

Here the services that today’s Physiotherapists offer could become more specialised and even expand in scope to include

  • Specialised care (aging, disability, chronic care)
  • Rehabilitation
  • Exercise programs to improve body functioning and personal goal setting
  • Recommendations on lifestyle and diet
  • Self-management advice on general health
  • Physio centres could combine various wellness techniques under one roof
  • Managing and monitoring wellness data

Collaborative care could pick up speed. A process that will involve a multi dimensional diagnosis and care unlike today’s uni-dimensional approach where specialists mostly don’t speak to one another. In the world of prevention and wellness, data and conversations will hold the key to a patients well-being. Physiotherapists and GPs’ could play a key role in patient care. Family Health Teams could be formed which actually take control of a patients data, medication and treatment.

Physiotherapy and associated services will also lend themselves to greater regulation, accreditation and consumer ratings.

Physiotherapy needs to build a customer connect for all this to happen in India. It also needs to get out of the perception of low value that exists here. Barring a few notable exceptions, physiotherapists charge around Rs. 400 an hour, most times even lower. Patients in India are still not used to looking for a physiotherapist. Most would still go to an Orthopedic doctor for an injury or expect their coach in helping them achieve enhanced sporting skill. Physiotherapy, actually is the best option for both. It can improve bio mechanics to achieve that perfect golf swing. It can also help you overcome an injury or manage pain.

Communicating in a language that a person understands and developing packages, that make the entry barrier easier to overcome are all ways that will help in building a new healthcare ecosystem that looks at the patient’s well-being.

What is perhaps needed is a platform for physiotherapy that can build strategic partnerships for a broader role in the healthcare system as well as ongoing research and training. This could of course focus on developing world-class skilled resources who are dedicated to creating new solutions to complex care problems.