Petition RMTAO for Consultation on the Salient Issues

Open Letter to the RMTAO Board of Directors,
and Executive Director re: strategic planning 2021

Thank you for your dedicated service to our professional representative, the RMTAO.  As an RMT practicing in Ontario, I acknowledge this has been a turbulent year, and commend your courage in taking the leadership seat as we collectively reflect on the past, assign meaning to the present and look towards the future.  

According to the RMTAO website[i], the role of the RMTAO Board, “to envision the future of the organization and the profession while ensuring the organizational structure is present for the vision to be achieved. The Board of Directors provide overall strategic direction for the Association and monitor the organization’s performance towards achieving these strategic goals. The Board is also responsible for setting governing policies for the organization and establishing position statements on matters of importance impacting the profession.”

As such, I ask for both consultation and representation on the following points as you deliberate strategic planning this year.  I request and expect opportunities to assemble with other RMTs, to consult the Board transparently and vigorously, to engage and exchange experience and perspective on these salient issues in an inclusive, supportive and coherent forum.  To deny such a vigorous exchange would forfeit trust, respect and loyalty I have for my professional representative.

These points will be shared through the available social media channels and other mechanisms, to allow RMTs across Ontario to endorse this action.  Over this year, I ask the RMTAO to conduct town hall meetings, utilize Community Based Networks (CBNs) for two-way exchanges with the Board and Executive Director, and to make available other forums to facilitate interaction among all Ontario RMTs, so we can believe we have been consulted and duly represented.

Following are the 12 areas I believe require the most urgent redress:

Nurture Insurer Relations.  Relationships with insurers are essential to RMTs.  Many patients rely on health benefits for Musculo-skeletal injuries not reimbursed under the provincial health plan.  Respectful, beneficial ongoing discussions with insurers are critical to massage therapists.  Insurers are signalling changes in coverage for massage therapy (MT) services, and the profession seems ill-prepared to respond.  Specifically:

Insurers acknowledge MT provides short-term pain relief. They want comparative studies to demonstrate efficacy as compared to exercise, a yoga class, mindfulness practice or “a nap”.

Insurers are skeptical of a broad scope of practice not linked directly to evidence or measured outcomes. They want treatment guidelines that estimate costs of treatment plans and deliver tangible benefits to claimants.

Insurers demand services claimed to be evidence-based and demonstrate efficacy.

Insurers imply claims reimbursement can contribute to exploitive business models geared to maximizing financial gain rather than better health outcomes. They want measures taken against fraud and exploitation.

My question for Operations: What, specifically, are the action steps the RMTAO will take to improve relationships with insurers?

Bolster RMT Earnings.  Many RMTs complain their incomes are insufficient, and they fear risk of overuse injury.  Delivery of care models are time and labour intensive, RMTs regularly lack business acumen, the coherent relationship of employer/employee versus contractor/practice broker has, from the beginning been muddled…all factors affecting the lucrativeness of practice.

The Profession of Massage Therapy in Canada, An Environmental Scan (CMTA 2016) laid out RMT annual earnings: 20% <$25 K, 23% $25-39 K, 18% $40 – 55 K, 12% $55-69 K, 11% $70 K+.

From the most recent RMTAO earnings survey (2013):

Average income hands-on/direct care $39,163.

Most respondents do not have secondary sources of income.

Average service fee $76.00/hour.

21 hours/week ‘hands-on’, Average volume of patients – 19.3/week.

9.5 hours/week dedicated to business activities.

50%+ respondents would choose to work 10 additional hours, but suffer or worry for physical strain, lack clients, or “fear burnout.”

54% are satisfied with pay – but would work more if not for the aforementioned

From the same survey, “56% not earning what they expected…because of market saturation, inconsistent pay, lack of public understanding (re: MT scope/profession).…told earlier / during training they would be making much more than they do.…MVA insurance and HST taxes have negatively impacted finances.”

Massage Therapists who broker practice opportunities for other RMTs, who take on large leases, risk capital, business interruption and loss, who work diligently in their communities to build credibility and awareness of the profession, provide an essential service to all of us.  They particularly require support and encouragement.

My question for Operations: How will the RMTAO work with members to improve the viability and lucrativeness of practice?

Support RMT Scholars and Research Literacy.  Highly educated RMTs have trouble advancing in their field for lack of research and leadership positions, resulting in a tremendous loss of perspective and intellectual capital within our profession.

From a Massage Therapy Canada article entitled Preventing Brain Drain: Opportunities and Challenges for Higher Education, “Trish Dryden confirms the self-employed status of RMTs may limit their proclivity toward an administrative or academic position. When RMTs do obtain these positions, they are full-time, with few resources allotted to do research.  This speaks to a much larger social question around access to the production and distribution of knowledge,’ states Dryden.[ii]

It is difficult to discern the level of research literacy of RMTs in Ontario, although a study was undertaken in Saskatchewan in 2008.[iii] It is expected that research literacy and generation will improve the credibility, status and possible funding of massage therapy services in the health care sector.  The RMTAO could improve research literacy of its members via improving access to research abstracts, consulting research thought-leaders in the field to define and lay out the research agenda, liaison with universities interested in conducting research in massage therapy, and supporting the generation of research.

My question for the Board and Operations:  What is the comprehensive plan for funding and supporting massage therapy research, and improving research literacy and capacity for RMTs?  What will the RMTAO do to support RMTs seeking higher education and research positions in the field?

Address Inequities in Access to Care.  According to the 2019 CMTO Annual Report, almost 4/5 (78%) of the RMT population in Ontario are women.  While not tracked, we can speculate current massage therapy patient populations are likely not representative of the diversity in gender, socio-economic status and ethnicity of the general Ontario citizen population. 

My question for the Board and Operations:  How will the RMTAO promote massage therapy to a broader and diverse patient population, and support the concerns and interests of its largely female member population?

Produce Promotional Practice Materials.  I need help educating the public on massage therapy.  I would like to access a wide variety of media – stock photos, illustrations, short animations, and videos.  The infographics provided by the RMTAO are a good start, and I believe many RMTs would be happy to pay for effective patient education media.  The RMTAO could off-set costs by designing images and materials centrally, making them available to all members at a reasonable cost.  The Canadian Massage Therapist Alliance (CMTA) could procure such media to be used across the nation, improving coherence of the profession’s promotional messaging and further reducing costs to acquire such media.  Look to British Columbia and Manitoba’s MT association for good examples of public awareness campaigns.  Perhaps RMTAO members could be approached to crowdfund public advertising campaigns.

My question for Operations:  Will the RMTAO produce a variety of effective media to help members educate the public at the front-line of practice?

Capture and Share Statistics on the Profession.  Our profession suffers from a paucity of information on itself.  As noted, the last RMTAO earnings survey was eight years ago, the last comprehensive survey by the Ontario regulator was 18 years ago.  Information on the profession is required by prospective individuals considering massage therapy vocationally, and by existing practitioners measuring their results against peers:

Range of net incomes RMTs realize (annual survey)
Sectors/populations served, and common conditions/complaints addressed
Perception by MTs of greatest barriers to practice, and best opportunities
Forecasting 5-to-10 years-out critical practice issues

The first wave of the COVID pandemic in Spring 2020 presented a tremendous opportunity to engage RMTs while they were literally sitting on their hands, awaiting for return-to-work restrictions to abate.  As White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”  We could have used this time to hold virtual townhall meetings and symposia to address salient issues in the profession – facilitating member engagement and soliciting their perspectives and ideas – to finally tackle the critical issues that divide us.  The RMTAO fell short here.

Currently, the RMTAO social media page for member engagement has been archived, local hubs (CBNs) have been left largely unsupported, and the Board has not engaged the membership on the mission-critical Ends policy for some time. 

It appears, frankly, the RMTAO goes out of its way not to engage its membership.

My question for Operations and The Board:  Will the RMTAO engage its members regularly so RMTAO members (and prospective RMTs) can participate in the direction of the profession, accumulate accurate and helpful metrics on the profession, and be more informed in their individual practice operations and decisions?

Follow up question: The regulator last performed a comprehensive survey of the profession in 2003.  RMTAO members and prospective practitioners require current profession statistics to make good practice decisions.  Will the RMTAO lobby the regulator to commit resources for a new comprehensive survey?

Recruit and Train Media Representatives.  RMTs have suffered increasingly poor media coverage.  Searching several national media sites, news articles featuring the words “massage” or “massage therapist” are regrettably underweight in citing benefits of care, research developments or community health/populations served.  Most searches produce stories linked to insurance fraud, the sex trade and professional misconduct / sexual abuse.  Through imbalanced journalism and resultant influence on public perception, we might collectively be concerned RMTs are disproportionately vulnerable to complaints.

I argue the RMTAO is underutilizing the skills and resourcefulness of thought leaders, and front-line practitioners in its Community Based Networks. Trained media representatives at the local level could proactively submit informative, positive press releases to help guide public perception of massage therapists.

My question for Operations:  Will the RMTAO recruit and train a team of members – as well as the Executive Director! – to consistently and competently respond locally or provincially to imbalanced and negative media coverage? 

Strengthen Advocacy, Demonstrate Leadership.  Massage therapy, although a regulated health profession in Ontario, is excluded from provincial health insurance imbursement and subject to the consumption tax (HST).  Compared to smaller, perhaps considered more “alternative” professions (chiropractic, naturopathy, Chinese Medicine/acupuncture) the MT profession appears fragmented, under-resourced and unfocused in its activism. 

Astonishingly, despite the formation of the Federation of Massage Therapy Regulatory Authorities of Canada (FOMTRAC) in 2003, and diligent work by several MT associations across Canada, progress on regulation has been exceedingly slow.  The Ontario regulator now commands a budget greater than 12 times that of our Ontario representative…a concerning and unsustainable imbalance of resources and power.

Momentum has been lost from the RMTAO’s 2018 government relations exercise, and the privilege of self-regulation is being critically examined in British Columbia, with implications for Ontario.  The RMTAO needs to do better in portraying leadership qualities, and advocating for the interests of its members.

My question for Operations: Will the RMTAO demonstrate better leadership, focus its advocacy efforts, and regularly report to the membership the purpose and outcomes of those efforts?

Position Massage Therapists in Health Care.  Massage therapists are not being employed in community and public health – arguably more strategic targets for inclusion than hospital or emergency medicine.  Beyond the absence of a clear lobbying strategy, the profession lacks infrastructure for generating research and affecting public policy.  There are other disciplines with the same objectives as ours, and the massage therapy profession would benefit from alliances with like-minded professions to pool resources and focus lobbying efforts for inclusion in public health.

My question for Operations: Considering disciplines aligned with MT objectives in pursuing government and insurer relations, public and media relations, and research funding/generation, what steps will the RMTAO take towards building these strategic relationships?

Support Prospective and Entry-Level Practitioners.  Training college accreditation helps ensure a standard quality of education, and contributes to the profession’s credibility in the public eye.  The Canadian Massage Therapy Council for Accreditation reports the process stalled in all but 4 provinces – BC resigned but re-enlisted.

American schools are seeing a precipitous drop in enrollment and anecdotally in Canada the supply of massage therapists is not meeting demand by employers.  Stakeholders in the profession – representative associations, regulatory bodies, training schools – appear uninterested to attract prospective candidates to the field upstream.

My question for the Board: What steps will the RMTAO take to promote the profession, and attract the next generation of massage therapists to the profession?  What specifically will the RMTAO do to support entry-level practitioners to become better informed and prepared as they enter the profession?

Follow up question:  Does the RMTAO have a functional relationship with the Canadian Council of Massage Therapy Schools[iv] (CCMTS) and the Heads of Massage Therapy Programs in Community Colleges?  If so, what is the scope and extent of the relationship?  What joint projects are these decision-makers working on?

National Coordination and Representation.  The Canadian Massage Therapist Alliance (CMTA) states its objectives are to advance the MT profession, collaborate with industry partners, and encourage regulation[v].  This coalition of the sister provincial associations is funded by membership dollars.  The CMTA does not provide an annual report on its site, and appears ineffective in coordinating a national strategy for government and insurer relations, gatekeeper HCP relations and public/media relations.  It falls short of contributing to research literacy in the profession or facilitating national media to inform all representative associations.  The website appears to be infrequently updated. 

The CMTA could be much better coordinated and focused on common national issues, while the sister associations support each other addressing province-level challenges.

My question for the Board: What is necessary to improve the function and coordination of the CMTA, to the benefit of all sister associations?  How will the RMTAO nudge the CMTA to meet these objectives?

Engagement Leading to Evolution. There are many extrinsic forces affecting the practices of massage therapists, now and into the future.  RMTs must consider how technology, health care delivery, digital knowledge transfer, government policy, socio-economic shifts, the specific needs of marginalized populations, and other factors affect day-to-day practice.  Our profession requires think-tanks and opportunity to consult subject matter experts to forecast and prepare for these issues.

Additionally, there are a myriad of substantive issues within the profession that suffer an inchoate conceptual framework, and thus remain unresolved.  Two examples: 1) the confusion around what defines the employee/employee or contractor/practice broker relationship from a legal, taxation, functional and economically-viable-for-both-parties viewpoint 2) the dialectic assertion that “relaxation” as a therapeutic outcome is diametrically opposed with the credibility the profession seeks. 

Such issues require long but necessary hours of thoughtful and respectful engagement, ultimately fruitful to the profession in its coherent messaging to government, insurers, gatekeeper HCPs and the public / media.  Symposia, think-tanks, round table discussions, and facilitated social media platforms are all vehicles for development and maturation of the professional context and theoretical framework.

My question for the Board:  Will the RMTAO create multiple opportunities for RMTs to contribute, to dialogue and debate, and ultimately influence the narrative of their chosen vocation?

I the undersigned respectfully demand both consultation and representation on the 12 points included therein, as the RMTAO Board deliberates strategic planning this year.

I request and expect opportunities to assemble with other RMTs, to consult the Board transparently and vigorously, to engage and exchange experience and perspective on these salient issues in an inclusive, supportive, and coherent forum. 

Name (print)                                                               Signature

Date Signed



[iii] Research utilization and evidence-based practice among Saskatchewan massage therapists (



Evidence Informed or Averse?

Recently the regulator in Ontario conducted a survey to determine the perspective and application by RMTs to evidence-informed practice. The questions were comprehensive enough, but I suspect the survey will fail to deliver. It didn’t allow participants to address whether they value evidence-informed practice, and what are the barriers to doing so. So I wrote Bryn Sumpton, Manager, Research, College of Massage Therapists of Ontario (CMTO), with my perspective.

Research literacy and capacity were not part of my education 1989-1991.  I value what research can provide the profession, so I since acquired M.B. Menard’s “Making Sense of Research” and Dryden/Moyer’s “Massage Therapy: Integrating Research into Practice”.  I am a quarterly supporter of the Massage Research Fund in the USA

I attended several of the IN-CAM conferences, and wrote of my attempts to understand how research could be better incorporated in my critical decision making

What’s more, I’ve made one of my STRiVE competencies to obtain a higher level of research literacy.

When the RMTAO offered access to research search engines a few years back, I spent time looking for studies that might inform my everyday practice. 

I’m frustrated that the studies reported on conditions and populations I rarely see, for example paralysis, COPD.  As for other studies, I don’t qualify to “massage the heart” in cardiac surgery. 

I wonder when research design will better reflect the cases I see in everyday practice?  Here are two examples:

1) A 65 year old woman, multiple medications for cardiac/circulatory conditions reports regular neck and back pain from her work in the lab at a local winery.  She stands on mats over concrete floors, taxes her back and upper extremities with sophisticated lab procedures and has significant lordotic-kyphotic curvature in her spine, likely occupationally induced.  She was looking forward to retirement this year but her husband died suddenly, apparently from medical error resulting in sepsis followed by death.  She describes being “out of it” for several months and has returned to work in hopes of a sense of normalcy and purpose as she mourns the loss of her husband and the retirement plans they had.

2) A 64 year old woman, HR professional has experienced progressive hip and lower back pain.  The severity of the pain required her to turn over and back out of her bed in the mornings, reduce her walks and eliminate bicycle rides.  She relied on sleeping pills for years to help her sleep.  The apparent origin of the pain: 20 years ago she fell out of a tree onto a mature, exposed tree root, while 8 years ago she slipped in the tub and impacted her rib cage and flank.  She admits the progressive pain and immobility has affected her sleep, mobility and quality of life for several years.  She has tried a number of practitioners and methods with minimal improvement to her function.

Why aren’t more research studies designed to inform practitioners how to address the physical-psychological-social complexity of cases like these? 

I believe some of the barriers to RMTs embracing evidence-informed practice are 1) RMTs can’t find studies with outcomes relevant to their specific practice 2) Are research illiterate/not trained in methodology 3) Resources spent for reviewing research or writing case studies are not incentivized properly and 4) higher educated, research literate RMTs are regularly forced to look outside the profession for positions commensurate with their knowledge and experience 

So, I think the survey design would illicit more useful information if it was anteceded by open-ended, qualitative questions like “What does evidence-informed practice mean to you?  What barriers do you have incorporating evidence into your practice?  What research questions do you want to see answered?  If not interested in informing your practice with evidence, why not?” 

I think the answers to these questions would be robust and insightful in advancing the CMTO’s stated objective of increasing research literacy in the MT profession.

The CMTO has been a generous contributor to the Massage Therapy Research Fund  I wonder if the CMTO would also consider hosting a round-table (virtual broadcast) jointly with the RMTAO of thought leaders from the profession to address the consistent roadblocks WRT research literacy, capacity and building infrastructure to support research.

As an aside, you might find this article by Sasha Chaitow “Science, Pseudoscience and the Communication Battle” in Massage & Bodywork, July/August 2020 clearly nails the urgency of advancing research in our field, and points to some solutions in addressing the problems we are facing.

Thank you for your most considerate attention to my concerns, and I wish you all the best in your position with the CMTO.

Don Dillon

Think Canada’s MT Infrastructure is Superior to the USA’s?

This is a response to the first part of episode #1 Massage Therapy Without Borders where cohost Canadian RMT Cathy Ryan provides a helpful but not complete picture of the massage therapy infrastructure in Canada. So, I just had to say something. 🙂

Hello Cal and Cathy,

I’ve just come across your podcast and have been enjoying the quality of content.


I appreciate the unique opportunity your podcast provides for discussing massage therapy from a more integrated North American perspective. 

In speaking with my American colleagues, I believe there has been an artificial divide between USA and Canada massage therapy (MT) issues.  We share many of the same opportunities and frustrations across the border.  We can and should be working more closely together.

In your podcast you invited feedback, so in response to that invitation, I’m writing to fill out more of the picture regarding your episode #1.  While co-host Cathy Ryan provided a fair assessment of some of the aspects of the Canadian MT infrastructure, your listeners may be interested in greater context, and perhaps particularly the egregious bits.  I hope you’ll take opportunity to delve further into the Canadian context in a future podcast.

I’ve been surprised when my American colleagues have expressed a belief that Canada’s MT framework has its act together.  They perceive the standards are high, education in Canada is superior and integration into health care is de facto.  That spurious perspective requires an upgrade.

Here are some things you should know about the Canadian MT infrastructure:

School accreditation is occurring in only 4 of 10 provinces (and BC was a late entry) and none of the territories.  Therefore, efforts to increase the quality and standardization of education for MTs in Canada is fractured at best.

Regulation is slow.  It’s taken 25 years to regulate only 1/2 the provinces: Ontario 1994, BC 1995, Newfoundland/Labrador 2003, New Brunswick 2014 and Prince Edward Island 2019.  Even longer if you consider Ontario had basic regulation in place since 1918.

The Canadian Massage Therapist Alliance (CMTA) is a coalition of the various MT provincial associations.  While it’s mandate is ambitious the CMTA does not produce an annual report on its actions, despite being financed by membership dollars directly.  In the last five years it produced a cross-Canada scan  and is involved in a national campaign to deregister from the consumption tax (HST).  However without annual reports, it’s hard to discern how active or effective the CMTA is.

Canadian MTs appear to suffer from inactivism, despite every reason to act in their best interests.  In Ontario, a province with over 14,000 RMTs only 43% are members of their professional association.  It’s hard to fathom why the association – which represents MT interests to government, insurers, gatekeeper HCPs and the public/media – would not engender overwhelming support from all MTs, despite effective representation under a paucity of support and resources.

The cost of regulation is huge.  In Ontario, the regulator takes in 12X the professional association’s budget.  The cost of regulation is terribly disproportionate to the cost of representation, and RMTs should be very concerned about sustainability.  To its credit, the regulator has graciously allocated a small amount of its budget towards the Massage Therapy Research Fund.  This is something the professional association cannot afford to do, despite its mandate to support research.

RMT earnings are concerning.  Here are some numbers from the Registered Massage Therapists’ Association of Ontario (RMTAO) from their most recent earnings survey of 2013:

Average income hands-on/direct care $39,163 (before taxes)
Majority of respondents do not work outside MT practice (therefore, only source of income).
21 hours/week ‘hands-on’, Avg volume of patients – 19.3/week
9.5 hours/week – business activities
50%+ respondents would work 10 additional hours/week, but fear physical strain, lack clients, or fear “burn out”
Only 54% are satisfied with earnings – many would work more if not for the previously mentioned concerns.

From the report, “56% not earning what they expected…because of market saturation, inconsistent pay, lack of public understanding (re: MT profession).…told earlier / during training they would be making much more than they do.…MVA (automobile) insurance and HST (consumption) taxes have negatively impacted finances.”

There are other issues facing Canadian MTs.  They lack coordinated public and media relations in response to increasingly negative news stories re: insurance fraud, inappropriate touch or associations with the sex trade.  MTs are over-reliant in remuneration from employee health benefit plans. 

Despite regulation, the public does not perceive massage therapists working in health care because they are overwhelmingly not integrated into provincially-funded and endorsed health care settings, and their services are subject to a consumption tax (HST) that most health care services are not. 

In Ania Kania-Richmond’s 2013 look at hospital-based massage in Canada, few hospitals offer massage therapy, and for those that do, they are not providing care directly to hospital patients. “It is important to recognize that a significant activity of massage therapy in hospitals is focused on hospital staff and employees…over half of the hospitals that responded in this study provided massage therapy to employees only.” 

There are a few exceptions where MTs are working directly with patients but these are indeed exceptions. 

Our profession also lacks a strategy to provide care to underserved populations in public health – those in palliative and hospice care, the elderly, children with illnesses, the homeless, refugees and indigenous populations.

There are many things I admire about our American cohort.  You’ve managed to indeed incorporate massage therapy into direct patient care and   The US Department of Health and Human Services under the NIH provides funding for research into Complimentary and Integrative Health, something not endorsed by our Canadian government.  And the Massage Therapy Foundation appears to be very progressive in generating research dollars and promoting research literacy. 

 I know the massage therapy profession in the USA has faced its own challenges in defining identity, insurer relations, school accreditation, generating research and promoting professionalism.  But I would not put its growth or evolution below our advances in Canada.  Hopefully we can find more ways to collaborate between our countries on shared interests, and move the profession to the next level of development.

Thanks for the show, and I look forward to future episodes!

Insurers signal changes to Massage Therapy Claims

Insurers have been signalling for some time they have concerns with claims for massage therapy. Recent podcasts and blogposts from Greenshield Canada and Benefits Canada may imply significant changes are coming.

1) Insurers acknowledge MT provides short-term pain relief. They want comparative studies to demonstrate more or less efficacy compared to exercise, a yoga class, mindfulness practice or “a nap”.
2) Insurers are skeptical of a broad scope of practice not linked directly to evidence or measured outcomes. They want treatment guidelines that estimate costs of treatment plans and deliver tangible benefits to claimants.
3) Insurers demand services claimed to be evidence-based and demonstrate efficacy.
4) Insurers imply claims reimbursement can contribute to exploitive business models geared to maximizing financial gain rather than better health outcomes. They want measures taken against fraud and exploitation

Without provincial health plan coverage of musculo-skeletal injuries, citizens rely heavily on employee benefits provided by their employer. Good insurer relations are key for massage therapists to ensure continued access by their patients. The MT profession needs to come up to speed and galvanize its representatives to ensure good insurer relations.

Regarding “up to speed”, following are a number of resources – from most recent to archived – to help you understand and articulate the issues, make informed statements when speaking to colleagues, and to ask your advocates in your professional association to act.

Insurers Signal Change in Massage Therapy Coverage (podcast) (June 2019)

Insurers Question the Value of Massage Therapy…A Signal of Changes to Come? (May 2019)

Consider the Insurer’s Perspective (February 2019)

Can Massage Therapists Improve Relations with the Insurance Industry? (podcast, February 2019)

Manage Massage Therapy’s Reputation in the Marketplace (June 2015)

Report on Health Benefits Misses the Point (May 2015)

Claims Crisis in Health Insurance (September 2013)

Insurance Coverage for Massage Therapy: Going…going…gone? (July 2012)

10 Years on

How government policy, technology, corporate capitalization, user demand for convenience and integration will shape Massage Therapy Care

Please note, this is a draft article for Massage Therapy Canada magazine for which I’m soliciting input. What have I called correctly, in your perspective? What have I missed? Please share your perspective in the feedback space below…and thank you!

What does the future hold for the profession?  While no one can know for sure, forecasting based on best available information – and a little intuition – can yield a look-see for what is trending.  Forecasting can guide practitioners to fortify against risk, design their practices to remain relevant and identify new opportunities.  Forecasting is essential for regulators, professional associations, training colleges and other stakeholders for resource allocation and planning for contingencies in addressing the needs of their members/students.

Here’s my speculation for the next 10+ years to come in the massage therapy profession in Canada.

Advent of Health Technology:

The fields of bio-technology, robotics and artificial intelligence impact all aspects of our lives.  While current massage devices appear crude, advances are being made in sensate machines that detect pressure.  Robotics are incorporated in a variety of sophisticated applications like surgery and, linked with artificial intelligence, will foray into the bodywork space. Mechanized touch providing pressure and stretch to a stiff body can be applied daily and cost-effectively and will increasingly be employed in rehabilitation and assisted movement.  This won’t replace the personalized human touch provided by skilled practitioners but augment it.  Watch for DIY (Do-It-Yourself) applications to bodywork continue to expand.

Technology will be incorporated in patient safety, security and quality of outcomes. Virtual Reality (VR) will expand the cognitive and sensory experience of health care applications.  VR can enhance massage experience, but also modulate pain in the brain.  People will adopt more sophisticated bio-sensors in all their activities, measuring heart rate, blood pressure, and stress response.  I believe we’ll see increasingly sophisticated data generated on physiologic effects of massage in real-time.

Personalized and Convenient Care:

Massago provides convenient, on-demand massage services in Toronto, Ottawa, Kitchener, Calgary and a growing list of Canadian cities.  Patrons use a phone app to arrange same-day appointments at home or alternative location, choose from a variety of massage service types, pay for service and the rate their massage experience. Technology verifies patron identity for the security of the practitioner.  Massago aggregates user feedback to build best practices and improve user experience over time.

While Massago addresses the on-demand market, CEO Allan Skok shared users build a preference for an excellent practitioner and are willing to postpone an appointment several days to get their practitioner of choice.    I expect technological improvements to lighten and strengthen portable massage tables, make hydro/electro-therapies novel and portable to augment services.

Antithetical to the always-on, technology-saturated social and work environments we occupy, expect the values of embodiment and mindfulness to drive massage experience.  In addition to virtual reality integration, I expect massage practitioners to work in tandem with practitioners of psychotherapy (who perhaps incorporate legalized psychedelic drugs) to address deep-seated trauma, promote higher consciousness and a sense of embodiment.

More Populations Served:

Massage therapy already serves a number of market sectors: rehabilitation, spa/wellness, holistic/integrated care, palliative care, athletics and work performance on-site.  Adopting a bio-psycho-social model of care, greater research literacy and capacity, and if the profession can galvanize on government/insurer/media advocacy, we may see massage therapists incorporated in mental health, public health, home care and intensive rehabilitation programs.  Massage therapy may prove especially helpful in socially marginalized populations – the poor, indigenous, victims of domestic violence, refugees, the elderly and disabled. 

Government funding and efficiencies may drive individual disciplines to work collaboratively together – for example in home care, a physiotherapist or nurse, massage therapist, personal support worker and social worker.  Massage therapy will continue to be valued as an antithesis to the felt effects of aggression, violence, workplace stress, sensory overload and trauma.

Increased Accountability Demanded by Third-Party Payers:

Insurers want accountability in claims.  They want customers to use benefits judiciously and expect health practitioners to work efficiently within financial constraints and demonstrate efficacy in outcomes.  Increasingly insurers may only fund services that are evidence-backed.  Insurers have the ear of employers regarding cost-savings and efficiency in purchasing employee benefit plans.  We may see massage therapy services positioned in higher cost, add-on premium insurance products, which will reduce the number of employers signing on.

A shift to an employee spending account with a suite of options puts the user in charge of spending, hence greater scrutiny and accountability by the user for how benefit dollars are invested.  Insurers may look to WSIB and auto-insurance service fee schedules and apply downward pressure on practitioner compensation for all their insurance products.

Watch for insurers to incorporate user reviews to determine preferred providers to work with, insurer control over spending and citizens actively engaged in sourcing their best health and wellness options.

Corporations and Capitalization:

The wellness industry is valued at $4.2 trillion globally[1][2].  Massage therapy will continue to be popular, and corporations will continue to capitalize on market demand.  Watch for growth in corporate employers of practitioners, high profile locations in commercial real estate hubs, strong branding and messaging, and vigorous recruiting of practitioners.  Also watch for branded methods/customized protocols designed and promoted towards marketplace pain-points – similar to the many types of yoga and fitness products now available. 

How do you see the future playing out? What else is trending that will affect the massage therapy field?

Please comment below or on the Facebook page.


[2] 00000000

MT Schools can provide a much-needed forum for the profession

MT schools are institutions of training, knowledge transfer, professional and subsequent personal growth. Could they become more? In a profession riddled with isolation, slow progress on key issues and a divisive identity crisis, practitioners can return to schools for evening discussions to advance dialogue and debate the profession sorely needs.

It’s a natural fit to return to your Alma Mater, engage colleagues and former instructors on sticking points plaguing the profession. Or if you’re no longer living near your old college, any MT school could open it’s doors in the evening to become a mecca of deep, thoughtful, respectful discussion on all-things-massage. Perhaps live-streaming could be incorporated for those at a distance.

There is currently no gathering place for Massage Therapists to regularly engage, at length, on matters of interest and livelihood. MT schools can provide the brick-and-mortar structures for gathering, and nurture existing students in their critical thinking.

I recently attended a gathering at my training school, Sutherland-Chan, in Toronto, Ontario. Although Ian Kamm, presenter and SC instructor, let with mostly lecture and a final Q & A, it held the seeds of possibility.

I’ve included a summary of my thoughts, and you can read reflections on the evening by SC instructor Bruce McKinnon as well.

What say you…are existing MT schools the solution to professional isolation and stagnation?

Emerging Issues Facing RMTs in 2019

As we begin 2019, I suggest it prudent we take a look at emergent and critical issues facing massage therapists.

Insurer Discourages Customers from Utilizing Massage Therapy Benefits

At the end of 2018, we witnessed another ploy by Greenshield Canada (GSC) to discourage its customers from using their massage therapy benefits. This bait-and-switch tactic positioned as a moral dilemma was designed to engender guilt – if I use my paid-for benefits to utilize massage therapy, then I’m taking GSC’s resources away from paying for expensive pharmaceutical treatments. In effect, I’m denying someone else care if I consider my own.

Greenshield makes it clear they don’t think much of massage therapy, despite it being one of the most sought-after and used benefits their plans offer.

Sure, we all love a good massage. It’s relaxing, it soothes our sore muscles, and sometimes (just sometimes) it’s as good as a really good nap. But on the hierarchy of health needs, we’re going to go out on a very well-researched limb and say that massages fall significantly below life-sustaining miracle drugs.

Never mind that the Ministry of Labour cites MusculoSkeletal Disorders (conditions RMTs can positively affect) costing employers hundreds of millions of dollars affecting tens of thousands of citizens

GSC appears to dismiss these conditions in favour of resource-intensive conditions affecting far fewer citizens.

Insurer Threatens Removal of MT Benefits

In another post We Spend More on Massage Than Mental Health Services…Time for a Change?, GSC propose dropping massage therapy coverage as part of a SmartSpend initiative.

“Massage. GSC’s most popular and costly paramedical service is removed as a core benefit in order to re-invest significant funds in the more serious health challenges noted above.”

GSC via the Toronto Star took opportunity to criticize chiropractic and physiotherapy as well as massage therapy in a 2015 article

It appears GSC is increasingly hoping to discourage customers from making claims against insurance products customers have paid for. Read my rebuttal here

Clearly there’s a conflict of interest here…the company that takes in the premiums can boost revenues by discouraging or denying claims. Is it OK for the fox to guard the hen-house?

I sympathize with Greenshield’s cost concerns. They must take in premiums from their customers, then cover operational and marketing costs, staff and executive salaries before they cover claims.

Certainly, in the current system there is ample opportunity for waste and abuse. However insurance may be an outmoded and expensive way of reimbursing health care services…there’s a lot of money paid in premiums not directly benefiting GSC’s customers.

Health spending accounts and government tax credits put the money in your hands, and pressure health care providers to be diligent with their treatment plans. Supplementing tightly-controlled provincial health plan spending with these accounts/credits might better address the needs of Canadians, while keeping everyone involved accountable.

Insurer Believes People are Like Automobiles

Another area to watch related to GSC, the concept of sectional therapy. GSC announced they will now be collecting data on the primary treatment area. This may be the harbinger to future claims approval linked to treating only the symptomatic areas of the body, rather than considering global bio-mechanical dysfunctions or the body-mind / psycho-social connection for the whole person.

People would be treated like automobiles – replacing a muffler, changing a tire – instead of the complex human beings we are. GSC claims adjudicators without health care credentials or an assessment of the individual would be determining breadth and scope of care.

We should ask, “Are insurers part of the health care system? If so, what guides their decision-making processes when approving or denying care claims?”

Is there a threat to RHP self-regulation?

A recent Globe & Mail article is critical of the chiropractic regulator…/article-calls…/… The authors maintain the regulator is not doing enough to stem false or exaggerated claims made by their member practitioners.

Tim Caulfield, research chair of health law and policy at U of A has been an outspoken critic of self-regulation for naturopathic practitioners.…/researcher-wants-oversight-of…

Caulfield questions whether granting regulation to professions without rigorous evidence gives the public a false sense of confidence.

In “Self-Regulation is shielding bad doctors, not protecting patients” the Toronto Star editorial board state “Once again, doctors have shown they can’t be relied on to properly regulate their own profession. It’s time for the provinces to force the matter through legislation that more clearly defines what it really means to regulate the practice of medicine in the public interest.”…/self-regulation-is-shielding…

It appears that every year at the RMTAO AGM, the CMTO registrar shares that self-regulation for RHPs is uncommon now in most countries, and its days may be numbered in Ontario.

Given what we are seeing in these other professions, what do you think is the future is for RMTs and self-regulation?

Media Coverage for Misconduct Allegation Increasingly Sensationalist

Media coverage for allegations of misconduct by RMTs contains strong authority images (police cars, badges), cites allegations not yet proven, and rarely mentions MT as a regulated health profession.

If MT was Infused into Publicly Funded Health Care, Would We Be Ready to Serve?

This year representatives from the Registered Massage Therapists’ Association of Ontario (RMTAO) petitioned government to consider MT in health care applications for individuals with chronic pain, palliative care and home care.

If the wish was granted, and MT were able to work in these integrated health settings:

Are RMTs prepared and properly trained to work with contemporary western medicine practitioners in these integrated settings?
Can we expect service fees to drop to WSIB and auto-insurance service fee levels (about 30-40% below RMTAO’s recommended fee schedule)?
Would you be prepared to work at that level of pay?
What other regulatory and operational requirements would accompany the privilege of working in the system?

What other issues do you see emerging?  How would the issues listed here affect your day-to-day practice?

Please post your comments below

Quick Tool to Measure 4 Variables Essential to Quality of Life

What impact does your massage therapy have on the people you care for? How do you measure that impact? Would you like a tool that can?

Massage Therapists often use functional measures (muscle length and strength, joint range-of-motion) which are helpful in providing some information. Yet, these outcomes fail to provide sufficient context regarding a person’s quality of life experience.

Imagine: What if an MT could measure – with every session – the impact of her/his care on 4 variables: pain relief, mood, mobility and vitality? What if collecting this data could guide an MT as to the efficacy of their care in affecting particular conditions and populations?

What if there was an international databank, that collected and analyzed the data from all practitioner sessions, based on meaningful, subjective feedback from our patients/clients?

“Massage therapy is found to be 83% effective in middle-aged adults suffering headaches.”

What if government policy and health care funding were shaped and directed based primarily on the client/patient experience?

Here’s a sample survey you can print and handout, or send to your patients/clients electronically in advance of your session together. Make sure to follow up at session end and see how the ratings have changed based on your massage therapy. Record them for a few weeks and analyze the results.

See what you can learn about your client’s/patient’s practice experience.  Let me know how you make out by leaving a comment below.  Thank you!

Art of Anatomy

How do you learn and appreciate anatomy?  Did you use the Anatomy Colouring Book, or doodle, or find some other way to get it to stick in your memory?  Can we use illustration to provide better representation of what we feel under our fingers, to give the public an in vivo look into the engagement of hands-to-body?

Calling all amateur anatomical illustrationalists out there…share your artwork!

Patient/Client Experience: What the Data Says

How well do your patients/clients respond to care?  How do you know?

We all hope we are doing a good job, and that people have a wonderful experience.  However, we may not hear back on an adverse reaction, the level of reduction in symptoms, or an unexpected benefit (reduction in anxiety, better sleep quality) that a person may experience as a result of our session together.

Perhaps you can consider designing a survey, like the example below I did on SurveyMonkey.

With a free service like SurveyMonkey (upgrade to paid premium service is available) you can dig deeper into the experience and outcomes of those you provide care for.

SurveyMonkey provides a variety of formats for answers  – checkbox, multiple choice, slider-scale, text box – so you can design a survey to solicit feedback anonymously.  You simply provide the survey link by email after each session, and stop in to analyze your results every week.

Can you imagine the anecdotal evidence the profession would gain if we all applied surveys?

I’m running a survey for 6 weeks to gain some valuable insight.  If you conduct a survey, please comment below and let the community know of your interesting findings!