It’s no secret nutrition can significantly affect patients’ physical therapy outcomes. Soreness and inflammation are influenced by the nutrients we consume, and proper nutrition is key to performing well in and out of the clinic, particularly for athletic patients.
Reimbursements from insurers have also been stagnant or declining in many areas, despite the public’s growing appreciation for PT. Even top outpatient clinics are watching their margins shrink, and owners and administrators are searching for ways to add value and generate more revenue.
To address both concerns, many clinics have begun selling nutritional supplements. Designed to provide nutrients patients don’t consume in adequate amounts through their diets, some supplements can cost-effectively reduce pain, shorten healing times and improve long-term outcomes.
However, selling supplements isn’t for every PT practice. From costs to legal concerns to the specific products you stock, there are several factors to consider. Here are seven things you’ll want to keep in mind as you make your decision.
1. Additional Income
One of the biggest benefits to offering supplements is the revenue you’ll generate – without having to get more sign-offs from insurers. How much you stand to gain will depend upon your patient population, their diagnoses and the degree to which you advertise. Before you sign with a supplement company or make a bulk purchase, consider how much additional income you stand to make.
2. An Eye on Margins
Similarly, you’ll need to get a rough idea of how much your profits will really improve. Who will your suppliers be, what do they charge for their products, and will they require that you sell at their suggested retail prices? How much space will your stock require, and how much time will you and your staff spend managing it? Will you need to increase your marketing budget? Run the numbers before you buy.
3. Nutritional Counseling
A good supplement program should provide nutrients patients can’t consume through their normal diets. Likewise, the supplements they take should complement a diet conducive to health, recovery, and performance.The APTA actually created a webpage on combining nutrition and PT, noting that “nutrition is part of the professional scope of practice for physical therapists.” If you’re going to inform patients about supplementation, due diligence requires that you learn enough to talk to them about nutrition (or hire someone who can).
4. Overstepping Your Bounds
The APTA’s views aren’t law, however, and each state has its own jurisdictional scope of physical therapy practice. In states where nutrition isn’t mentioned within that scope of practice, PTs will also need to look to their state laws regarding nutritional guidance. Some states only allow registered dieticians to give nutritional advice, others require certifications and some require little to no licensure. Make sure you understand your state’s laws before you sell supplements – and certainly before you recommend specific products.
5. Patient Perception
Even if selling and recommending supplements is legal for PTs in your state, you’ll need to keep patients’ perceptions in mind. People have mixed opinions on the supplement industry, and while some will be eager to try natural, non-prescription remedies, others will be skeptical. Offering supplements might demonstrate your commitment to health and wellness, but it could also push skeptics away from your practice.
6. Vetting Your Purchases
Of course, the specific products you sell can make or break your reputation among skeptics and supplement enthusiasts alike. The supplement industry is relatively unregulated, and you’ll want to find suppliers who conduct independent assays and market research before releasing their products. Every ingredient of every product you sell should have evidence backing its use for a specific purpose.
7. Promoting Health
Ultimately, the most important consideration to make regarding nutritional supplements is whether they will make your patients healthier – not just in the near term, but long after they’ve left your care. The healthcare industry is moving towards holistic, preventive care, and the right products may help your clientele heal, move safely and prevent future injury. If the supplements you want to offer help them meet those goals, and if selling them is financially feasible and within your scope of practice, it only makes sense.