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Therapists at forefront of connecting patients’ physical, mental wellness


The number of injured workers self-reporting anxiety and depression jumped “significantly” between 2019 and 2020 and had not yet returned to pre-pandemic rates in 2022, according to an industry trends report released in February by MedRisk LLC. 

In 2019, 24.4% of injured workers reported they had anxiety, 19.8% reported depression, and 14.8% reported symptoms of both; in 2022, 30% reported they had anxiety, 23.5% reported depression and 20.5% reported both, according to MedRisk.

The report also found that, in general, injured employees reporting anxiety and/or depression have a 7% higher utilization of physical therapy than those who do not report these conditions. 

Brian Peers, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania-based vice president of clinical services and provider management for MedRisk, said the nature of physical therapy work — hours spent with patients in treatment — could be at the root of the connection between mental wellness and physical medicine. 

“Therapists are positioned well to have the types of conversations that lead to uncovering these things,” he said. 

Kate Farley-Agee, Plainfield, Illinois-based vice president of network product management for Coventry, an Enlyte Group company, agreed that physical therapists are often on the front lines of gauging overall wellness. 

“Physical therapists are seeing them more often than a doctor typically … and they can see the progress as they’re going through that whole process and figure out if there’s something else going on,” she said. 

A physical therapist’s notes are another portal to understanding mental factors, according to Michelle Despres, Jacksonville, Florida-based vice president of physical therapy for One Call Care Management Inc.

“We use predictive analytics. We have a machine learning model that actually uses artificial intelligence to read through the notes and look for key words and phrases that indicate there could be a psychosocial component to this individual’s recovery,” she said.