The economic value of Australia's $2.2 billion physiotherapy industry

16 May 2021 Consultancy.com.au 2 min. read
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Australia’s physiotherapy sector is growing in size and scope – boosting quality of life and reducing the cost of treatment for a whole host of medical conditions. New research from Nous Group put this economic value in numbers.

Physiotherapy in Australia is a $2.2 billion industry as of 2020, comprised of 7,000 businesses and over 35,000 registered physiotherapists – who administered just short of 15 million services to patients via private insurance packages, supplemented by the Medical Benefits Schedule and out-of-pocket payments. 

An upward trajectory: in 2013, just over 4,000 businesses made up a $1.5 billion physio industry in Australia. According to the report by Nous Group – commissioned by the Australian Physiotherapy Association – benefits of this growth stretch far beyond the monetary gains.

Method to determine the net benefit of physiotherapy

“Physiotherapists help Australians to recover from injury, manage disease and improve their wellbeing every day, either as the primary care provider or as important contributors to multi disciplinary healthcare teams,” said Nous Group chief economist Steve Corcoran.

“Physiotherapy is also a valuable and cost-effective alternative to other more costly interventions, such as surgery for osteoarthritis, and as a complementary therapy for pre- and post-surgery interventions.”

To put this cost benefit into hard figures, the researchers comparatively analysed the treatment of 11 common ailments through physiotherapy and other methods – calculating the total benefits from each avenue, and the net economic benefit from choosing physiotherapy over other options.

“Net benefits were calculated taking into account quality of life improvements, the cost of service delivery, patient-time opportunity costs, and the avoided costs of alternative or usual treatment,” noted Corcoran.

Average net benefit of physiotherapy across conditions

Conditions in focus were falls prevention; cerebral palsy in children; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; osteoarthritis of the knee and hip; chronic neck pain; tennis elbow; back pain; Parkinson’s disease; orthopaedic outpatient services; stress urinary incontinence and emergency department services over the course of 24 weeks.

Going from lowest to highest in the above order, the average net economic benefit of physiotherapy over other treatments ranges anywhere from $1,320 to more than $24,000 for a patient. And this is in addition to intangible benefits of a happier and healthier society – stemming from physiotherapists’ work in child birth recovery, mitigating disabilities, managing chronic diseases and post-injury rehabilitation, among a range of others.

For Corcoran, Covid-19 and all the related healthcare challenges have only served to accentuate this value. “Throughout the course of the pandemic, physiotherapy has been considered an essential service, underlining how critical physiotherapy treatment can be to people’s wellbeing and quality of life.”