Using Technology to Enhance Physical Therapy

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Black man in wheelchair using tablet

Physical therapy is a crucial component of rehabilitation and recovery for individuals with injuries or disabilities. With the advancements in technology, integrating it into the workflow of physical therapists can significantly enhance the services they provide to their clients. In this blog post, we explore various ways technology can help clients in their journey toward better health and wellness.

 1. Telehealth and Remote Monitoring

Telehealth has gained significant popularity, especially when in-person visits may not be possible or convenient. With video conferencing platforms, physical therapists can provide virtual consultations, assess clients’ progress, and offer guidance in real-time. Remote monitoring devices, such as wearable sensors, also enable therapists to track their clients’ movement and exercise routines from a distance, ensuring proper compliance and adjusting whenever necessary.

This can be helpful because it ensures the client does programs outside their session correctly. It might be as simple as shooting a message to their therapist asking them if their form is proper during an exercise or letting them know they’re experiencing pain or discomfort. The physical therapist can help the client adjust and feel more confident about doing some activities alone. This can be especially helpful for stroke survivors, who are re-learning skills and may need additional guidance. This continued support outside of sessions can help clients complete their physical therapy.

While studies are still being conducted and telehealth usage is lower post-pandemic, research has found that telehealth works best as part of a hybrid model, especially to help clients who struggle with access to in-person visits. A small study published in the National Library of Medicine found a 94% self-reported satisfaction rate, with 92% of participants (among 3,883 telehealth sessions) reporting they would attend another.

Some studies have shown promise that remote monitoring could improve client outcomes when used to coach them in ways that validate health behavior models.

Some organizations have found cost savings on employee healthcare plans by going fully remote and can transfer those cost savings to clients, though overall satisfaction in the effectiveness of treatment may be lower.

Not sure which EHR is best for your practice? Check out our guide.

2. Mobile Apps and Online Platforms

Mobile apps and online platforms specifically designed for physical therapy can be a valuable resource for clients. These platforms provide exercise tutorials, personalized rehabilitation plans, and progress-tracking tools. Additionally, clients can communicate with their physical therapists through these apps to seek guidance and support between appointments.

Leverage your client portal and Home Exercise Programs! You can use them to reach your clients, give them additional resources (and make sure they’re not following something unsuited to them found on the internet), and get them invested in their own recovery. Studies have found that patient portals can lead to improvements in clinical health outcomes when used as a complement to health services provided.

This additional data can help you bridge the gap between sessions and make more personalized adjustments. You can also use it to show clients how it’s impacting their recovery – and maybe convince them to do the HEPs you’ve been asking them to do for the last 2 weeks.

3. Wearable Fitness Trackers

Wearable fitness trackers, such as smartwatches and activity bands, offer useful data about clients’ daily activity levels, heart rate, and sleep patterns. Physical therapists can use this information to gain insights into their clients’ overall physical well-being and provide specific recommendations for improvement based on their individual goals and limitations.

You can also use these devices to hold the client accountable. Some clients may require a tough approach, while others might need more gentle suggestions. It can also encourage a discussion – for example, a client may not have the space or a comfortable area to do some HEPs, so you can make changes to fit their routine.

Studies have found that interventions incorporating wearables resulted (on average) in an extra 1800 steps per day, 40 minutes per day more walking, and a 6-minute per day increase in MVPA. Wearables weren’t found to be equally effective for every population – patients with disabilities or chronic pain, for example, did not benefit from these interventions. Still, if you need to help your clients become more active, wearables could be helpful.

Another strategy you can use to your advantage? Gamification. Gamification adds elements from games (like competition, rules, or scoring) to non-game activities. You may have seen fitness groups employ this technique. If your clients are children, completing some goals can be scored as wins, earning them stickers, playing with a toy, or other treats or rewards as decided by the therapist and caregiver. Adults are a little different (if you start doling out gift cards every time your clients do their HEPs, you might go broke), but you can still follow that path. Maybe they get to reward themselves or to get the satisfaction akin to “closing the ring” on their wearable. Gamification, when used properly, has been found to be an effective way to improve physical activity for clients.

4. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR)

AR and VR technologies have expanded the possibilities of physical therapy by creating immersive and engaging experiences. Therapists can use VR headsets to simulate real-life scenarios, making rehabilitation exercises more interactive and enjoyable for clients. Additionally, AR can be utilized to provide real-time visual feedback during exercises, ensuring proper form and technique.

In a study, patients with Cerebral Palsy who underwent 12 weeks of VR rehabilitation showed higher improvement in balance and gait compared to conventional physical therapy.

This is still very new technology, expensive, and not everyone’s cup of tea. Some people can’t put a headset on without getting sick. Still, we recommend watching this space and taking the time to consider how it could benefit your clients.

 5. Electronic Health Records (EHR)

Implementing EHR software can streamline administrative tasks for physical therapists while improving client care. EHRs enable therapists to access and update client records digitally, facilitating the sharing of information across healthcare providers and ensuring a more coordinated approach to treatment.

Numerous studies have found efficiencies when using an EHR, particularly when it comes to time spent on billing errors, which was reduced by 4-5 hours. Stronger PT referrals through EHR also led to a decrease in hospital admission rates.

Data from wearables can be added to notes or graphed, while the client portal and telehealth functions can be used from the EHR. Some, like Fusion, allow you to upload your custom HEPs, so clients can access the resources they need to recover. And if you do a lot of at-home visits, a mobile EHR allows for point-of-care documentation.

 6. Robotics and Assistive Devices

Robotic devices and assistive technologies are revolutionizing the field of physical therapy. Exoskeletons, for example, can help individuals with mobility impairments regain strength and mobility. Additionally, robotic devices can provide therapeutic interventions that are difficult to achieve manually, allowing therapists to focus on personalized care while technology aids in repetitive tasks. Soft robotics can also assist clients with smoother motions and has been shown to improve gait and fine motor skills in studies.

Of course, robotics is expensive and needs to be fitted to each client, making them difficult to access in most physical therapy settings. Still, as the technology improves, you may one day find yourself suiting a client with a glove or exoskeleton during therapy.

While many assistive devices, like wheelchairs or canes, are not digital, you can leverage timers and even smartphones to help your clients.

How to Make Technology More Accessible in Physical Therapy

The first step to using technology to assist physical therapy is to understand how to use it yourself (and teach your staff). If your client has questions on how to use the technology or device and you can’t answer, they’re unlikely to use it. Take the time to learn the ins and outs of your tools. Some of your clients (or staff) may not be very tech-savvy or may need assistance from caregivers or parents who also need to learn to use the device.

Create tools your clients can use. Show them video clips, print simple PDFs with instructions, and have them available in the client portal and your office. Remember that to make your clients use these tools, you must make it easy for them. Show them the benefits of using technology for their recovery. After all, the tech is useless if your clients won’t use it.

When integrating new technologies, make plans to drive adoption. Make your clients aware. Let them know, put signs around your waiting room, create pamphlets, or add videos and photos to your website or social media page. Show them how it helps them get better and teach them to make using assistive technology part of their recovery.

Technology integration into the workflow of physical therapists brings about numerous benefits for clients. Telehealth, mobile apps, wearable fitness trackers, augmented and virtual reality, EHRs, and robotics can all contribute to enhanced rehabilitation and improved outcomes when complementing evidence-based treatment plans. By embracing these technological advancements, physical therapists can provide more personalized, efficient, and engaging care, ultimately helping clients on their path to recovery.

Fusion makes EHR software technology more accessible for physical therapists. Our user-friendly software is designed to help you save time and focus on the clients who need you. Why take our word for it when you can schedule a demo and see for yourself?



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