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Physical therapy improves health and is effective for its cost

New strategies are needed to address rising health care costs

Health care costs are continuing to rise in many developed countries throughout the world, which is partially due to a growing number of people approaching retirement age. In the U.S., millions of individuals still don't have health care insurance, and many of those who do are not satisfied with their plan. This highlights the need for new strategies to address rising health care costs and make effective insurance more affordable for individuals. One concept that plays a major role in this process is cost-effectiveness, which essentially determines how much someone is getting out of a treatment based on how much it costs. A treatment that is highly cost-effective will produce good results without costing too much. Physical therapy is one treatment that's considered by many in the field to be cost-effective since it usually leads to notable improvements and is reasonably priced. To develop a clearer understanding physical therapy's cost-effectiveness, a powerful study called a systematic review was conducted. This systematic review collected all the available evidence on the cost-effectiveness of physical therapy compared to usual care, which includes appointments with doctors, medications and other services. Its goal was to determine just how cost-effective physical therapy is for patients to better guide treatment decision-making.

18 studies fit the necessary criteria for review

Researchers performed a search of four major medical databases for relevant studies on the cost-effectiveness of physical therapy compared to usual care for various conditions. After screening 367 initial matches and going through additional references, they found 18 studies that fit all the necessary criteria and were used for the review. The findings of these 18 studies were evaluated and compared to one another, and the quality of each study was also assessed to determine the reliability of the information they provided.

Physical therapy leads to improved health and is generally found to be cost-effective

Results from this systematic review showed that physical therapy, either on its own or added to usual care, led to improved health. This was found to be the case in almost all studies included. Regarding cost-effectiveness, six out of eight studies found that physical therapy on its own was cost-effective when compared to usual care. In addition, four out of 11 studies found physical therapy to be cost-effective when combined with usual care. Overall, this amounted to more than half of the studies supporting the cost-effectiveness of physical therapy. One reason this figure is not higher is the fact that different definitions of cost-effectiveness were used in the included studies. This may have made it difficult to determine the true cost-effectiveness of physical therapy. Nonetheless, this review shows that physical therapy is beneficial for leading to improvements in health, and it is generally cost-effective for patients. Additional studies should look into this matter in greater detail and researchers should also work towards establishing a clearer definition for cost-effectiveness, which will make comparing studies easier in the future.
-As reported in the June '16 issue of Physical Therapy

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