As part of the strategic plan for the profession, the College of Massage Therapists of Ontario, the Heads of Massage Therapy Programs in Community Colleges, the Ontario Council of Private Massage Therapy Colleges, and the Registered Massage Therapists Association of Ontario initiated and completed a survey to understand the profession’s credibility. The purpose of the Credibility Survey was to establish an understanding of the creditability of the Massage Therapy profession from the perspective of the public and other health care professionals.
Ipsos Reid was chosen as the research group and they conducted a 13-minutes online survey with 1,122 participants from the general population and another 417 who were health care professionals specifically. With 1,122 general population respondents, the results of this component of the study are considered accurate within +/- 2.9%. This means that 19 times out of 20, the overall results obtained would be accurate within plus or minus 2 percentage points, had all of the general public participated. Similarly, with 417 health care professional respondents, this component of the study is accurate to within +/- 4.8%. In other words, the margin for error in the health care professionals’ responses is larger than within the general public section.
We are pleased to provide the highlights of the Credibility Survey. Readers should keep in mind that the results presented are highlights and too specific conclusions should not be drawn from this survey. This survey was intended as a baseline measurement against which change can be measured as elements of the strategic plan are implemented.
Overall Perceptions of Massage Therapy
The Credibility Survey suggests that seven in ten (72%) general public respondents are favourable towards RMTs. The professions viewed most favourably were Physicians (92%), Registered Nurses (92%) and Dentists (91%). Physiotherapists were seen as more favourable than RMTs (81%) while Chiropractors were not (65%). Kinesiologists were identified as least favourable (49%).
While seven in ten (70%) general public respondents consider RMTs to be important in terms of ensuring someone’s overall health, perceived importance is low relative to the other health professionals tested. In fact, the importance of RMTs surpassed only kinesiologists (59%) and naturopaths (58%).
Over half of general public respondents (58%) trust RMTs to some degree. This is similar to the results seen for occupational therapists (57%) and chiropractors (54%). Physiotherapists ranked higher at 71%. Although three in four (75%) health care professionals trust RMTs to deliver effective care with integrity, compassion and respect, RMTs are behind Registered nurses, physicians, dentists, optometrists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists in rank order. Interestingly, women (34%) are more likely than men (26%) to say that they trust Registered Massage Therapists a “great deal”.
RMTs rate very well among general public respondents for perceived competence. Eighty-three percent of general public respondents say that RMTs are very competent, second only to registered nurses (87%) and optometrists (86%). The results indicate that 83% of health care professional respondents believe RMTs to be very competent.
When surveyed about advocacy – the propensity to speak highly of a profession without being prompted – one in four health care professionals would advocate on behalf of RMTs.
Knowledge and Awareness of Massage Therapy
In the general public, only a few respondents consider themselves to be very (17%) or somewhat familiar (39%) with Massage Therapy, compared to seven in ten (72%) among health care professional respondents. Interestingly, women and younger respondents are more likely to be familiar.
When asked who they would choose to treat a soft tissue, muscle, or joint problem, RMTs rank third out of eleven health care professionals. RMTs (44%) were ranked behind physicians (55%) and physiotherapists (51%). A higher proportion of health care professionals would choose a RMT (59%) and a physiotherapist would be selected most often (69%). Of general public respondents who select RMTs as one of their sources of treatment, respondents select them as their first choice 28% of the time. Physicians are ranked first 87% of the time and physiotherapists 32%.
Two in five (41%) general public respondents have received treatment from a RMT in the past. Of those who have received treatment, the majority (54%) do so once a year or less often. The experience of receiving Massage Therapy is higher in health care professionals (62%) but half still report receiving treatment once a year or less often.
The main reasons for seeking Massage Therapy relate to back or neck pain (20% among the general public and 24% among health care professionals [HCPs]), general muscle pain or tension (15% and 19%, respectively), or because of a doctor’s referral (15% and 19%, respectively). HCPs are almost twice as likely as general public respondents to have booked an appointment for ‘relaxation’ (11% vs. 6%). General public respondents are more likely to say they receive Massage Therapy only when they have an injury, pain, or some other health issue (78%), as opposed to on a regular basis to maintain their overall health (22%). Interestingly, younger respondents (29%) and those with higher levels of education (26% among those with some post-secondary) are most likely to see a RMT for regular maintenance.
The level of education respondents think a Massage Therapist “should have” does not differ greatly from their perception of what is required. More than half of the general public respondents (55%) think that a college diploma is currently a requirement, while 48% think it should be a requirement. Respondents are more likely to think that a RMT “should have” a graduate university degree (16%) compared to the proportion who believe it is currently required (9%).
Attitudes and Perceptions toward Massage Therapy
Massage therapy is associated with the words “relaxing” or “relaxation” most often (33% among general public respondents and 41% among health care professional respondents).
When asked to choose between two opposing statements regarding Massage Therapy, general public respondents are more likely to consider it to be “an extra” (67%) rather than “a necessity” (32%), and “about fixing a problem” (65%) rather than “about prevention” (35%). Respondents are divided as to whether it is “a medical visit” or “a spa visit” (both at 50%). The findings are very similar among health care professional respondents.
Two-thirds (67% among general public respondents and 65% among health care professional respondents) indicate that they have a positive view of Registered Massage Therapists in Ontario overall. Large proportions of general public and health care respondents agree (strongly/somewhat) that Registered Massage Therapists are committed to their profession (90% and 97%, respectively), and trustworthy (84% and 92%, respectively).
About three in four (77%) health care professional respondents would recommend Massage Therapy to the patients/clients with whom they interact.
In terms of the role Massage Therapy plays in the broader health care environment, more than three in four (77%) general public respondents agree that RMTs are important partners in healthcare (84% among health care professional respondents), with nearly three in four (72%) who agree that they are credible sources of health information. Two in five (43%) agree that Massage Therapy plays an essential role in their health care.
Past Experience and Future Intentions Recommending Massage Therapists
The following results are from health care professional respondents only. Two in five (40%) respondents have recommended Massage Therapy to a patient in the past. Of those who have not made such a recommendation, the main reason is not knowing enough about Massage Therapy (46%), followed by not considering Massage Therapy to be an effective treatment for patients (32%). Sixteen percent have not recommended Massage Therapy because they do not know a Registered Massage Therapist to recommend.
More than half of health care professionals (60%) consider Registered Massage Therapists to be their peers. Three in four (76%) are very (39%) or somewhat (37%) likely to recommend Massage Therapy to their professional peers.
As stated above, we caution against drawing too specific conclusions from this survey. Although the survey was well drafted and professionally executed, it was not intended to do anything more than establish benchmarks.
While the Profession’s Strategic Plan has among its objectives changes in the credibility of the profession, the Credibility Survey itself merely measures the perceived credibility of the profession at a point in time; it does not intend to change credibility levels.
With our Thanks
We would like to express our thanks to those who assisted in this project. Our thanks go to the respondents who took the time to respond to this survey. We would also like to thank Ipsos Reid for taking on this project and working closely with the project working group. Finally, our thanks go out to the members of the project working group who diligently worked to ensure that the survey gathered data relevant to the very complex concept of credibility.