The federal government has created a market saturation tool for determining the availability of healthcare services in a given geographic area. For example, you can find the market saturation for physical and occupational therapists by both state or county.
Looking at data from 2015-2016 reveals that Texas is one of the most prolific states for occupational and physical therapy. During that year, providers in just one county (Polk County) were paid based on just over 249 users each. These are Medicare numbers, by the way. That means each PT and OT in Polk County treated an average of 249 patients during the surveyed year.
Let us contrast that with Broadwater County, Montana. PT and OTs treated an average of 26 Medicare patients during the same year. What does this tell us about market saturation? It tells us that where more people are, therapists see more patients. It tells us that geographic regions with a higher concentration of residents need greater access to physical and occupational therapy.
This all seems like a no-brainer – but wait. It makes a difference if you are considering market saturation while looking for an OT or PT job. Consider these five things that affect market saturation data; they might affect where you look for employment:
1. Medicare Population
The first thing to note is that the government tool looks only at market saturation from a Medicare perspective. In areas with a larger number of Medicare patients, you would expect occupational and physical therapists to treat more of the patients measured by the tool. Thus, Medicare payments alone may not be an accurate reflection of true market saturation.
2. Provider Insurance Preferences
Unlike family medicine, therapists are not necessarily locked into accepting Medicare in order to survive. Therapists in more affluent areas may only accept private insurance and cash – because they can. This may cause data to show a higher market saturation in a given area than truly exists. You have to consider provider insurance preferences in relation to living standards and household income.
3. Access to Services
The government tool may be able to return data showing the number of providers in a given area, but it cannot explain how easy access to them is. Access is typically more difficult in rural areas, even if the number of therapy jobs is proportionally higher. Ease of access has to be considered alongside other demographic data.
4. Locum Providers
We cannot forget about locum providers in the market saturation equation. Locums are self-employed therapists who work on a contract basis. Because their numbers are not truly reflected in the government data, they skew market saturation numbers considerably. Where there are more locums working in a given area, market saturation data tends toward less accuracy.
5. Hospitalist Providers
Hand-in-hand with locum providers are those physical and occupational therapists employed by hospitals. Depending on how cases are reported, government statistics may be measuring payments to individual providers or their employers. This makes an enormous difference. Market saturation would be artificially low in cases where it reflects payments made to hospitals for the services of multiple therapists. On the other hand, market saturation might be artificially inflated by payments to individual therapists even though they are employed by hospitals.
In the end, all of this is to say that OTs and PTs should keep market saturation data in the proper perspective when looking for a job. The data can be helpful by providing a direction, but it is not infallible. Market saturation data is affected by many variables that cannot be accounted for.