A recent problem for small, rural areas throughout the United States is a lack of physical therapists to serve them. Physical therapy can often be a powerful alternative to opioids and other drugs that serve as pain management, but without these services, people with chronic pain may turn to drug use to alleviate their pain, which is more and more turning into substance abuse.

Why it’s a problem

Medical professionals tend to live in and serve larger metropolitan areas, where there is a strong clientele and the ability to pay back student loans. Therefore, those who live in smaller communities often can’t get access to certain medical services. Physical therapy is a strong antidote for chronic pain, but with a shortage of trained physical therapists to serve smaller communities, these people can’t benefit from this option. Right now, however, there’s no incentive for physical therapists to go out into small communities and fill the gap.

It’s become more urgent to fill this need as fatalities from drug abuse have greatly increased in recent years, specifically in rural communities. The opioid crisis has hit everywhere in the country, but it seems to be leaving a more insidious mark on areas where there are no alternatives for pain management, and opioid use is soaring.

The solution – bringing physical therapy to small communities

Recently, a bipartisan bill in congress has been introduced to rectify this situation. Senators Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Angus King (I-Maine), and Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Representatives John Shimkus (R-Ill.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) have initiated the The Physical Therapist Workforce and Patient Access Act. This bill would allow physical therapy students to enroll in the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) loan repayment program. This program, which is operated by  the Health Resources and Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is currently available to other health professional students, encourages students to go out to underserved communities throughout the United States. The program has zeroed in on areas that have a shortage of healthcare professionals, and brings them in to alleviate the deficit. Until now, physical therapists have been excluded from the program.

The NHSC currently serves over 11 million people in rural areas, and sees the physical therapist as an important part of the medical team assisting this population. While drugs can help with pain management, physical therapy can help people take control of many aspects of their health, as well as help curtail substance abuse.

Possibilities for physical therapists

As baby boomers are aging, the US department of Labor sees enormous growth potential for the physical therapy market. If current trends continue, there could be a deficit of as many as 26,000 physical therapists by the year 2025, and this will continue to hurt small communities, where the shortage is felt the most. By including physical therapists in the loan repayment program, the NHSC is looking to hopefully get more of them out to the underserved communities instead of overloading them into the urban areas where they are currently over-distributed.

At Hudson View, we offer excellent physical therapy services for our patients, from expert-trained professionals.

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