Stretched Too Thin: The Demand for Physiotherapy Services in Canada

The Conference Board of Canada, August 2, 2017 at 02:00 PM EDT
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The number of Canadians consulting physiotherapists increased from 8.4 per cent of the adult population in 2001 to 11.6 per cent in 2014. This represents an increase of 3.8 per cent per year. By way of comparison, Canada’s adult population has grown by annual average of just 1 per cent since 2001.

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Urban areas comprise just 3.6 per cent of Canada’s geography and about 82 per cent of the population, but contain 90 per cent of Canada’s physiotherapists. The remaining 10 per cent service 90 per cent of the country’s land mass, and recruiting physiotherapists to these non-urban centres poses a significant challenge. As a result, patients in these areas have reduced access to the resources necessary to meet their physical therapy needs.

Further analysis reveals that the strongest rates of physiotherapist employment growth are in regions with the smallest increase in consultations. In Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia, employment growth above 4 per cent more than exceeds the 3.4 per cent increase in consultations. However, in all other provinces combined, annual employment growth of 2.6 per cent on average is not enough to address the increase of 4.5 per cent in physiotherapy consultations.

From a sustainability perspective, there is not an abundant supply of physiotherapists to satisfy a dramatic rise in demand, especially in rural and remote communities. As of 2014, the unemployment rate for all professions in Canada was 6.9 per cent. With the unemployment rate among physiotherapists around 0.3 per cent, there is no surplus to help alleviate the rising demand and exhausted supply in some areas of the country.

The Market Profile of Physiotherapists in Canada is the second briefing in a three-part series. The first report, The Role of Physiotherapy in Canada: Contributing to a Stronger Health Care System, provides an understanding of the role of physiotherapists within the Canadian health care system. The third and final briefing in this series will forecast the demand for physiotherapy services for seniors, using an approach that integrates the use of rehabilitation services in long-term care and homecare and provide recommendations for action from a variety of perspectives.

  • At the end of 2014, there were approximately 20,130 physiotherapists employed in Canada.
  • Nearly all of Canada’s physiotherapists (90 per cent) are employed in an urban area.
  • The unemployment rate among physiotherapists seeking employment in the profession was 0.3 per cent in 2014.
  • The number of Canadians that have consulted a physiotherapist has been steadily increasing across Canada.

About Greg

Greg SutherlandGreg Sutherland joined The Conference Board of Canada in 2002, and is currently a Principal Economist in the Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care.

Greg’s role is to provide quantitative analysis of the sustainability of the Canadian health care system, as well as provide economic analysis for all projects undertaken by the Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care. Greg recently worked in the Centre for Municipal Studies, forecasting the economies of several census metropolitan areas in Canada. He was also involved in several custom economic and fiscal projects. While in the Centre for Municipal Studies, Greg’s expertise focused on developing provincial, industrial, and regional forecasts. Greg previously worked for Enbridge Consumers Gas and General Motors Defense. Since coming to the Board in 2002, he has been featured frequently in the media.

Greg obtained his M.A. in economics from McMaster University during which time he did an internship at Industry Canada.

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