Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on outpatient physical therapy in Germany

Z Evid Fortbild Qual Gesundhwes. 2021 Aug 9:S1865-9217(21)00119-7. doi: 10.1016/j.zefq.2021.07.002. Online ahead of print.


INTRODUCTION: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the German health system has faced major challenges since spring 2020. In addition to restrictions in the inpatient health care sector, the maintenance of outpatient care by health care providers has also been affected by the pandemic-related restrictions. Both a decline in treatment frequencies and temporary practice closures have been observed. The aim of the study was to survey the work and care situation in outpatient physiotherapy practices during the first wave of the pandemic.

METHODS: An anonymous online survey including quantitative and qualitative items was conducted among physiotherapists in the outpatient sector in Germany between June 1 and August 31, 2020. The survey is part of the mixed-methods study “ArTheCo”, which was conducted throughout Germany including outpatient therapists and patients in physiotherapy, speech therapy and occupational therapy.

RESULTS: In total, 577 physiotherapists from all over Germany took part in the survey. During the first wave of the pandemic, the occupancy rate fell below 50% at 45% of the facilities. 15% of the facilities had to close temporarily. Short-time work was announced at 58% of the respondents’ practices. This and the implementation of hygiene measures restricted the provision of physiotherapy. This mainly affected patients with a higher risk of a severe clinical course of disease, such as nursing home patients. Due to complex changes in practice organisation and patient care, many of the interviewees felt that their economic existence was threatened and also described a large physical and psychological burden. Existing dissatisfaction seemed to have increased by the pandemic.

DISCUSSION: To maintain continuous physical therapy, a reorganisation of the reimbursement system as well as easily accessible, consistent and feasible action plans for practices are needed. In combination with threats to existence due to the pandemic and increasing skill shortage, the outpatient physiotherapeutic care also appears to be threatened beyond the pandemic.

CONCLUSION: The current pandemic has highlighted long-standing challenges causing dissatisfaction and making the profession increasingly unattractive for some of the respondents. Political action to support physiotherapists needs to be initiated. This study indicates potential starting points.

PMID:34384716 | DOI:10.1016/j.zefq.2021.07.002

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