If you’re in the physical therapy business—and especially if you’re a practice owner or manager—you’ve probably wondered how many patients you should be seeing each day. In other words, is there a so-called “golden number” of daily patient appointments per therapist? Well, as with so many other PT practice-related questions, the answer really depends.
Actually, my team at WebPT recently completed an industry-wide survey of rehab therapy professionals. We asked tons of questions about everything from frustrations and motivations to billing and reimbursements. And when it came to patient volume, our results were all over the board.
So, why so much variation? Well, there are a few different ways we can think about this:
First, one of the great things about being a PT is that you can work part-time, full-time, or as a contractor. So, based on the amount of time you’re spending in the clinic, you could see more or fewer patients.
Another thing to consider is the use of assistants or technicians: In some practices, this is very common and accepted. With assistants, therapists are typically able to see more patients in an eight-hour day. For example, when I was practicing in my sports PT practice, I used to see—on average—12-14 patients in an eight-hour day, but I had an athletic trainer assisting me with all eligible patients.
You also have to account for differences in accepted insurance types, as insurance companies can dictate the amount of time a patient can spend with a therapist. Medicare, for example, states that the therapist must see the patient one-on-one, and that the patient can only be seen by the therapist. So, going back to my example above, if I were seeing only Medicare patients, I would not be able to see as many patients per day (or I would have to minimize the amount of time spent with each patient).
Also, keep in mind that certain types of therapy specialties—like pelvic health, neurological, and even pediatrics—often demand more one-on-one care regardless of insurance type. That means therapists end up seeing fewer patients per day.
Clinic culture is also a contributing factor. There’s a wide range of disparity in therapy practice with respect to protocols on the specific techniques, amount of exercise, or treatment that a therapist should provide in a day. I think it would be interesting to break this data down even further to look at it based on the tenure of the therapist: does the amount of time spent with patients and the number of patients seen in a day change as the therapist gains more experience? Also, if the clinic leverages assistants, do the therapists then devote most of their time to completing initial evaluations? These visits usually take longer than follow-up visits, which theoretically means therapists would see fewer patients in a day.
Finally, there’s also a great disparity in the average amount therapists are paid per visit. In areas that have low per-visit payments but high overhead—like New York—you may see a higher volume of patients seen per therapist in order to keep the lights on.
Interestingly, even though our survey data showed such a wide variation in patient appointment volume, when it came to appointment duration, there was a lot more consistency. In fact, nearly 75% of survey-takers reported having patient appointments that last an average of 31 to 60 minutes.
But to circle back to the question I posed at the beginning of this post (i.e., “Is there a standard number of daily patient appointments per therapist that practices should shoot for?”), the answer seems to be no. Instead, I recommend working backwards to calculate your ideal patient load. That is, start by pinpointing your financial goals, and then figure out how many patients your practice must service each day in order to meet those goals. (Check out this blog post for a more in-depth explanation of this process.)
Interested in seeing more data from our industry-wide survey? Download the free report here. And for more great data analysis and insights, be sure to watch the recorded version of the free industry survey webinar WebPT CEO Nancy Ham and I recently hosted.