Stretched Too Thin: The Demand for Physiotherapy Services in Canada

The Conference Board of Canada, August 2, 2017
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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 Louis

Louis Thériault Louis Thériault is the Vice-President, Industry Strategy and Public Policy for The Conference Board of Canada. Louis joined the Conference Board of Canada in 1997, where he specializes in economic and policy analysis. He is currently responsible for research and networks in the areas of national security and public safety, health, energy, environment and transportation policy, science technology and innovation, food, and the Centre for the North. He is also the liaison officer for the Institut du Québec.

Formerly, Louis was the Executive Director, Economic Initiatives, responsible for all aspects of the Board's many research programs including the Canadian Alliance for Sustainable Health Care, Canadian Tourism Research Institute and Global Commerce Centre.

Since joining the Conference Board, Louis has launched several initiatives. He was first responsible for the Metropolitan Outlook Service including a quarterly economic forecast for large Canadian urban centres. In 2003, he launched the Canadian Industrial Outlook Service providing economic and financial trends for large industries. Louis was also director of the International Trade and Investment Center, which offers Canadian business leaders and policy-makers research related to the implications of ongoing restructuring of global production. More recently, he launched the Board's health economics group providing forward-looking, quantitative analysis of the sustainability of the Canadian health-care system.

In addition, Louis is a speaker and a media spokesperson on public policy issues and the Canadian economy.

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