Fitness

A Digital Future For Physical Therapy?

January 10, 2022
7 minute read

In 2020, we all went through a global pandemic which has already altered most of our lives, and will continue to change the way we do things going forward. In some cases, COVID-19 showed us weaknesses in the way we currently operate on many levels, the physical therapy and rehabilitation industry is a great example of this.

During the height of the pandemic, clinicians could not see their patients, some of whom depend on visits to PT a few times a week to move and exercise safely. Without the ability to see their clinicians, many people stopped moving and exercising completely (1). The inability to see patients in an aging and increasingly unhealthy population could have been avoided with Telehealth and Telerehabilitation. Based on a survey from over 800 physical therapists from around the globe, only 5% said they treated patients online prior to COVID-19, but there was a 15-fold increase in virtual visits compared to before the pandemic started. (2)

The rehabilitation and physical therapy landscape is changing, and with the possibility of a Physical therapist shortage incoming (3), Telerehabilitation and mobile healthcare is more important now than ever.  

Why now?

We are living in an era of unprecedented changes and challenges, with our aging population being no exception. As more and more people reach old age, our healthcare system is struggling to keep up. Many communities that need access to care are the most underserved by the current model, which tends to serve privileged communities more and neglect those who are already at a disadvantage.

One possible solution to this problem is virtual Physical Therapy. With virtual PT, it becomes much easier for clinicians to care for more of their patients, no matter where they are located or what their socioeconomic status is. Even if someone feels under the weather or is at risk of being infectious, they can still connect with their Physical Therapist using virtual therapy technology. This not only helps those who need it most, but also opens up new possibilities for recovery even during times of crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic. With virtual Physical Therapy, everyone can get the help they need on their journey back to health.

Benefits of Virtual PT

Physical therapists play a crucial role in helping people manage and recover from injuries, chronic Musculoskeletal damage, and other conditions that affect their mobility. However, with an increasing demand for these services, many physical therapists are struggling to see as many patients as they need in order to meet all of their clinical duties. One possible solution to this problem is the use of mobile apps like EZPT. By allowing physical therapists to easily monitor and guide their patients through exercises via video, these apps help to streamline the process while reducing costs for both patients and clinics. Additionally, by providing real-time audio feedback and correcting any problematic movements, mobile apps can help ensure that therapy sessions are completed correctly and effectively. With the potential for an upcoming Physical therapist shortage looming on the horizon (3), now is the time to explore all available options in order to optimize this critical aspect of healthcare delivery.

Geographic, physical, and motivational disruptions can negatively affect people's access to this care (4). Telemedicine is a growing field that uses mobile technology to deliver care remotely, overcoming these barriers and making Physical Therapy services more accessible. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been an exponential growth in the use of mobile apps and other Telehealth services. This trend is likely to continue as people increasingly seek out on-the-go solutions that fit their busy lifestyles. Mobile apps offer a unique solution to the problem of exercise engagement by providing patients with the supervision and guidance they need to ensure they are completing their exercises correctly. In addition, these apps can be tailored to each individual's needs, providing a customized experience that is far more effective than generic Physical Therapy programs. As telemedicine continues to evolve, mobile apps will play an increasingly important role in Physical Therapy services.

Do they Work?

Naturally, the ability of an app on your phone to perform the duties of a rehabilitation professional is sometimes doubted. Many people don’t believe it, or are afraid of the possibility that technology will replace them. These apps are never meant to do that, and are only meant to be used as tools for the physical therapist so that they can enhance the accuracy of their analysis and prescription. When analyzing gait patterns for example, the human eye is only able to detect so much. With an app like EZPT, we are able to detect more precise measurements that can be further evaluated by a clinician with accurate data to back it up. Services like these are also able to collect and store data that can be reviewed. This ensures your patients are not only doing their daily exercises, it also ensures they are performing them correctly at home. 

One major challenge faced by physical therapists is low engagement with exercise programs (5). This can be due in part to a lack of supervision from clinicians and a lack of self-efficacy among patients. However, emerging technologies such as mobile apps have the potential to help address this issue by providing tools that enable patients to engage more effectively in at-home exercises.

A survey of 819 physical therapists found that 78% believe this form of rehabilitation has a “sustainable future as an effective method of care delivery(2).” Another study of 814 participants found that “using digital PT was associated with clinically meaningful improvements in pain and function among a diverse set of participants (6).” These exciting findings must be supported by continued studies exploring different methods of Telerehabilitation delivery and their effectiveness in various scenarios. Ultimately, our goal must be to find the most efficient and effective way to deliver high-quality care in order to best serve the needs of our patients.

Why EZPT?

At EZPT, we are dedicated to patients. Our mission is to help fight the epidemic of musculoskeletal pain and its effect on the economy. More and more people each year find themselves unable to get out of bed because their back pain is so bad, but they cannot see a PT due to time or financial constraints. The MSK Epidemic is showing no signs of slowing down as obesity rates and our population's age both get higher. Missing work days because of musculoskeletal pain adds up fast, and can be felt by both businesses and individuals.

Physical therapy is evolving. With the help of technology, it is becoming more efficient and beneficial for patients. Technology has allowed physical therapists to monitor their patients’ progress remotely and ensure they are completing exercises with proper form. Additionally, virtual PT can help clinicians see more patients in a day, which could lead to lower physical therapy costs for patients. Physical therapy is growing rapidly and will continue to do so as studies are conducted to validate its efficacy. If you or someone you know needs physical therapy, be sure to consider all your options, including those that involve technology. You may be surprised at how helpful digital PT can be!

References

  1. Tison, G. H., California, U. of, Avram, R., Kuhar, P., Azumio, Abreau, S., … Olgin, J. E. (2020, July 16). Worldwide effect of covid-19 on physical activity: A descriptive study. Retrieved May 9, 2022, from https://www.acpjournals.org/doi/full/10.7326/M20-2665
  2. Szekeres, M., & Valdes, K. (2020, November 21). Virtual Health Care & Telehealth: Current therapy practice patterns. Retrieved May 9, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0894113020302131
  3. Zimbelman, J. L., Juraschek, S. P., Zhang, X., & Lin, V. W.-H. (2010, November 18). Physical therapy workforce in the United States: Forecasting nationwide shortages. Retrieved May 9, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1934148210005162?casa_token=A32kU25rI7gAAAAA%3AxpTY9GbF5GDAlVXpMZTW1ahfX117HCMCNtVAsTQNAxlKfz4tz-twFa5o-Pm4E2unYbSWqf94
  4. Galea, M. D. F. (2019, March 5). Telemedicine in rehabilitation. Retrieved May 9, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1047965118308660
  5. Agnew1*, J. M. R., Hanratty1*, C. E., McVeigh2*, J. G., Nugent3*, C., Kerr1*, D. P., Physiotherapy, 1D. in, & Agnew, C. A. J. M. R. An investigation into the use of mhealth in musculoskeletal physiotherapy: Scoping review. Retrieved May 9, 2022, from https://rehab.jmir.org/2022/1/e33609
  6. Beresford, L., & Norwood, T. (2022, February 24). Can physical therapy deliver clinically meaningful improvements in pain and function through a mobile app? an observational retrospective study. Retrieved May 9, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2590109522000118 

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