PTA Rhonda Barrera performs pilates based strengthening on Pilates Reformer with a patient at Integrated Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy.
Twenty years ago, Loudoun County looked nothing like it does today. Neither did the physical therapy industry. When Genevieve Griffin first opened her physical therapy practice in 1996, her friends thought she was crazy. Today, there are over 20 practices, and the industry grows with each passing year.
“The population growth has just been exponential and I think people are searching for ways to remain healthy,” Griffin, owner of Loudoun Physical Therapy said. “We’re a young, active community but we’re also caught in that daily routine of business and the education level of Loudoun is unbelievable and people seek out ways to stay well and healthy and active.”
Similarly, Robyn O’Connor, physical therapist and owner of Integrated Sports Medicine and Physical Therapy, says there’s something special about Loudoun.
“It’s a pretty tight knit community. So if I’m working with one athlete and they’re having a positive experience, people are very friendly in Loudoun; they share that, they help people in public, their teammates, they tell their neighbors. And that word of mouth has been huge. And I contribute that to the type of community Loudoun is,” O’Connor said.
When O’Connor first opened her practice in 2007, there were half as many physical therapy practices in the county. Now her office has doubled in space, and even though there are more practices out there, O’Connor said the demand for physical therapy is so high, they stay busy.
Not only has the physical therapy industry grown with the county, but Loudoun being such an active community has also contributed to the boom, O’Connor said.
“Loudoun is a huge youth and adult sports community,” O’Connor said. “There’s things for almost every age and level so there’s lots of active people. I pretty much don’t know of a sport we don’t do in Loudoun.”
In addition to private practices like Griffin’s and O’Connor’s, Inova Loudoun Hospital also offers a physical therapy and rehabilitation program.
Catherine Christopher, director of Inova Loudoun Hospital’s Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Center, started as one of the only therapists in 1991. She started out as a speech-language pathologist, and as the program grew, her responsibilities grew.
“When you start with speech therapy, it’s just the tip of the iceberg because then we recognize that many of our kids have many handicaps and many things that we need to address, many disabilities and speech is usually the first thing identified and recognized in a child that something isn’t developing correctly,” Christopher said. “So then it opened up the door to have physical and occupational therapy on the pediatrics side as well as a very robust program for adult rehab.”
Inova offers various rehab programs as well as physical therapy. Since the center is hospital-based, many of the patients Christopher and her staff see have more complicated conditions. In 2006, when the hospital expanded, the physical medicine and rehab center was allocated more space. By then, it included pediatric and adult rehab services, including physical and occupational therapy, speech therapy, a concussion clinic, aquatic therapy and pulmonary and cardiac rehab, Christopher said.
“We’ve been very lucky. We have state of the art equipment, the NeuroCom EquiTest which is a wonderful piece of equipment that does testing for your sensory organization that can tell you where your balance is, if you’ve had a head injury,” Christopher said. “A bump on the head and a concussion can really throw off your visual processing and your balance out. We do video oculography, which we’ll put a dark goggles on you, you can’t see anything but we can watch your eye movements on a computer screen. When you turn your head and move your head, we can see if your eyes are having funny movements and say ‘oh yeah, something isn’t working right up there.'”
“And we have exercises to fix that. We always check patient’s neck. And I think what makes my program so special is I have an orthopedic team, I have a neuro team, I have a team that’s trained in vestibular rehab, so all these components make for a very comprehensive assessment of what you need,” she said. “We have a great mobility program for Parkinson’s patients. We have stroke, spinal chord injury. Every specialty you can think of, we can do.”
Inova went from a small staff in 1991 to 46 employees and 38 therapists, not including those in the cardio rehab program. Christopher takes care in the individualized care at Inova. Patients will spend a full 45-50 minute period with a physical therapist and the therapists also team up with each other and other medical professionals to figure out more difficult cases.
“That’s how we’re able to figure these things out: to have the time with the patient, to really listen and figure it out and to have the multi-disciplinary team that we all talk and figure it out,” Anne Blackstone, Outpatient Rehab Clinic Coordinator and Inova Concussion Clinic Coordinator, said.
As the physical therapy industry continues to expand in Loudoun, there appears to be no shortage of business.
Griffin echoes O’Connor’s earlier sentiment, saying that even with extended hours to see more patients, she still feels like her practice needs another therapist.
But over the years, physical therapy programs in universities have gotten more competitive, Griffin said, noting that finding quality therapists is not always easy. “Sometimes it takes years for people to get into the program so they go into other things. Like our one tech, is going for massage therapy and hoping to transfer over,” she said.
Private practice or hospital based, across the board all agreed that insurance and the increasing paperwork demands are among the biggest challenges of the industry.
“There seems to be now a greater portion of patient responsibility in terms of higher deductibles, higher copays (and) a greater limitation of number of visits insurance will authorize them to attend, so that becomes a little bit of a challenge in itself because you want to make sure you’re getting the person back to their prior level of function with a reduced amount of insurance allowance as compared to before,” O’Connor said.
Griffin also spoke on having to change her practice model because of insurance. She uses physical therapy assistants and techs to help to continue to give her clients the one-on-one personalized care within the time limits insurance allows. But even if a patient needs therapy past what their insurance allows, these practices work with patients to provide the best care possible.
Patients sometimes come as far as West Virginia or Maryland to receive physical therapy in Loudoun. The technological advancements such those available at Inova’s Rehab Center, and the family feel of private practices like O’Connor’s and Griffin’s draw people from all over.
“Our clinic is a fun environment with everyone getting one-on-one attention. We like to think of ourselves as a big family and that when people come, yes it’s unfortunate that they’re there for an injury but we want their experience to be positive,” O’Connor said. “Having a positive experience is not only going to help the physical aspect of healing, but the emotional and psychological aspect that goes along with it.”