Guest Blog: How Digital Payment Could Drive Options for Physical Therapy Groups

By Tom Furr, CEO of PatientPay

What began as a private practice therapy group formed in partnership with a professional basketball player transistioned into a group of 40 physical and hand therapy clinics across the Northwest in 2019. But it took a shift to digital payment and account management to protect the solo status at Integrated Rehab Group.

Just a year after they found a local bank willing to take a risk with them in striking out on their own, the pandemic emerged. Suddenly, the moves IRG had made to gain greater freedom to make decisions that were good for their patients, team, and community—not just the bottom line—left them without a safety net.

As Shannon O’Kelly, CEO of IRG explained, “Even when patients were able to return for in-person care, volumes took a long time to return to normal, while our no-show rate climbed to 20%, up from 12% before the pandemic. Just as challenging: Patients were slow to pay their bills. The dream we’d had for a practice that could respond with agility to the needs of our specialty group and our patients appeared at risk.”

In early 2023, following the worst financial year on record for many healthcare organizations, IRG took two big steps toward establishing a digital foundation for patient financial engagement and account management.

First, they partnered with PatientPay to launch our mobile pay platform that sends a secure text message to patients as soon as their bill is ready to view. With one touch, patients can access their account directly, without the need to enter a username or remember a password. They also integrated this platform with their EMR and billing system.

O’Kelly continued, “Within minutes of sending our first texts, IRG received a payment from one of our patients. It was a sign of things to come. Almost immediately, we doubled our daily collections—and have sustained those results for the rest of the year. Today, 60% of patients who receive a text notification of their bill make a payment. It’s a rate that not only helps us overcome sluggish cash flow during typically slow payment months, like at the beginning of the year, when deductibles reset, but also positions us to expand our geographic footprint and introduce new services, like rehabilitation for patients suffering from traumatic brain injuries, concussions, and cognitive challenges.”

Moreover, the ability to self-manage accounts significantly decreased the number of phone calls IRG’s customer service team receives, enabling staff to devote more time to value-added activities like patient education and customer relationships.

At a time when the demand for physical therapy continues to rise, in part due to an aging population and a better understanding of the benefit of physical therapy services, positioning physical therapy groups to strengthen financial performance isn’t just a matter of survival. It’s also essential to a specialty group’s ability to invest in high-quality care, introduce new treatments based on the needs of their communities, and strengthen access to convenient care.

O’Kelly concludes, “For me, the decision also supports our group’s desire to remain independent. Don’t get me wrong: The support of a partner can be a powerful lever for business performance and compliance, but bigger machines are also less nimble. Our investment in a digital foundation for patient financial management positions us to adapt to a rapidly changing environment—and that’s a differentiator that matters for patient care.”