The healthcare industry and physical therapy as we know it is changing dramatically. Everything is going digital. Online. On the cloud. And physical therapy is going digital, too!
While the "metaverse" might not be as imminent as Mark Zuckerberg would like us to believe, and while we are still waiting for those self-driving cars, health technology is evolving at a pretty fast pace.
The Evolution Of Digital Physical Therapy
Virtual physical therapy is emerging as a convenient and accessible alternative to more traditional in-person, physical therapy sessions. Telehealth physical therapy is redefining how individuals approach their recovery allowing for greater access to care, more control over their health, and letting people engage in rehabilitation from the comfort of their own homes.
In this article, we take a closer look at this new type of treatment and explore some of the pros and cons of using technology for your back pain recovery. By being informed about both its advantages and potential disadvantages, we hope that you will have all the details you need to make the best decision for your back pain recovery.
Balancing Act: The Pros and Cons of Digital Physical Therapy
Embracing the Virtues of Virtual Physical Therapy
The American Physical Therapy Association recently published their thoughts about the use of digital physical therapy as part of the rehabilitation process. According to the APTA, 'Digital technologies can never replace the value or role of the PT or PTA but can enable clinicians to expand their reach and deliver critical data on patient progress and outcomes'.
As the population of the US ages at an increasingly rapid rate, the numbers of new physical therapists entering the workforce is struggling to keep up. On top of this issue, many physical therapists prefer to work in central hubs or main cities, leaving those in rural areas to fend for themselves or travel tremendous distances for care.
Digital physical therapy has a ton of benefits for many people and these are definitely good to keep in mind as you decide what type of treatment will be best for your specific situation.
Benefits Of Digital Physical Therapy
1. Seamless Accessibility and Convenience:
Research has shown that so called "transportation barriers" can have a major impact on health outcomes.
One study reported that "Transportation barriers to health care access are common, and greater for vulnerable populations .... In 25 separate studies, 10–51 % of patients reported that transportation was a barrier to health care access".
Virtual therapy totally takes out the need for people to travel to their PT appointment, letting you experience recovery from the comfort of your own home. For those with mobility constraints, loved ones who need caring for, or for people living in remote regions this can be a huge plus!
2. Tailored, Individualized Care:
Many virtual platforms provide personalized exercise programs and real-time feedback, making sure that you not only get the best exercises for your physical needs but that you also get the motivation you require to keep you going when you need it the most.
Compliance is a major challenge for people doing PT. One clinical study reported compliance levels as low as 65%! Knowing you have someone holding you accountable and encouraging you 24/7 can be a major bonus and can make a big difference to how compliant you are with your program. Better compliance leads to better outcomes!
3. Consistency Amplified:
A study published in 2021 titled 'Prevalence and Predictors of No-shows to Physical Therapy for MSK Conditions' reported that some 73% of people have missed at least 1 physical therapy appointment at some time or another.
With virtual therapy there are no more excuses for missing a session. You pick the time and the place and PT comes to you. This means that you can stick to your program and keep the momentum going - something that has been shown to significantly contribute to improved outcomes and faster healing times.
4. Technological Empowerment:
Harnessing cutting-edge technologies like wearable devices and motion tracking, virtual therapy elevates the rehabilitation experience while also using highly detailed data for better progress tracking and greater personal programming.
5. Cost-Effectiveness Redefined:
By eliminating the need for travel expenses and associated costs, virtual physical therapy is often a much more manageable cost than traditional PT and many programs, like the ones offered by OneStep and LivaFortis don't even require you to have insurance.
While costs can vary hugely depending on the type of program you choose, a study conducted in Sweden in 2020 found that "Digital... care is a cost-effective alternative to existing on-sight models of care" and that "substituting existing care for digital care may lead to considerable savings for both patients and health systems".
Some companies claim to offer "free" digital physical therapy but it is important to note that this is often only the case if your employer offers this as a specific company benefit. Check the details carefully before signing up.
What Are The Cons Of Digital Physical Therapy
While digital physical therapy certainly has a lot of benefits it is important to note that there are some things that might not work for your particular situation. Digital health can come with some limitations to the technology that people should be aware of before making their final decision. Let's take a look.
1. The Tech Glitch:
A the name suggests, digital PT is, well, digital. This means it requires some sort of technology to work. You may need a device, a smart phone, or a computer to access the particular program that the company uses.
Customers also often need some sort of stable internet connection with which to access the program and connect with the physical therapists or access the exercises.
We are all familiar with the glitches that technology can bring and technical hiccups or disruptions may occasionally happen, disrupting your therapy session.
2. No Hands-On Treatment Sessions:
Unlike in-person therapy, virtual sessions often lack the hands-on guidance that a clinic therapist can provide. Although digital therapists can offer verbal cues and demonstrations, they are obviously can't physically assist or manipulate a patient's movements.
3. Limited Access to Specialized Equipment:
Traditional therapy settings often come equipped with a diverse array of specialized PT tools. In a virtual setting, patients may need to rely on household items, which could potentially restrict the diversity of exercises and interventions.
4. Privacy and Security Considerations:
Engaging in virtual therapy means sharing personal health information over digital channels. It is highly recommended that you make sure that whatever company/product you use also complies with privacy regulations and uses strong security.
5. Less Social Interactions:
Virtual therapy may lack the social camaraderie that might be experienced in group sessions or in-person rehabilitation centers. While some people might actually prefer not having to "share" their physical therapist with other patients, other people may miss the sense of community that accompanies in-person care.
Conclusions: Charting the Course for Rehabilitation
As the world goes digital (or even virtual) it's imperative to approach virtual physical therapy with a balanced perspective. By recognizing both the pros and cons of digital physical therapy, people can make well-informed decisions regarding their rehabilitation journey and find a personalized plan that works best for them.
Will virtual therapy be more your style or do you find yourself wanting a more traditional, hands-on approach? What is really amazing is that this type of technology is allowing people to have more say over their treatment and more choice and that is always a plus!