by Iris Kimberg MS PT, OTR
I have been in the field of outpatient therapy long enough to remember paper charts and sign in clip boards. I remember when electronic medical records were introduced, with claims of being able to transform our “broken” healthcare system, eliminate illegible handwriting and enable healthcare providers to communicate and share records with one another more easily. We worried that a computer would interfere with the critical connection with the patient/provider relationship. We were concerned that our relationships with patients would become depersonalized, diluted and reduced to generic outlines, and clicked boxes. After a few years we saw that we had little to worry about. Healthcare was able to keep the personal relationships we build into care a priority, while embracing electronic medical records and its positive correlation to improved health outcomes.
I have been in the field of outpatient therapy long enough to remember when therapists thought they would be replaced by the new technological advances. By quickly pivoting to being curious, not dismissive, we now see how much new technology is an integral tool in every aspect of practice management and service provision can be, both for back office operations and direct patient care. For any therapists who remained skeptical, COVID made many of the most reluctant embrace technology and eliminate final barriers to acceptance.
Here’s a quick rundown:
Wearable Technology – More and more therapists now embrace their client’s usage of the many different wearable technologies currently available. There is a vast assortment of smartwatches, wearable sensors for the body, electronic cameras, and fitness trackers. Instead of replacing us, the wearable technology options allows us to have direct access to a wide assortment of information on the activities of our patients and interact with them when they are not in our immediate presence. I have seen this in both pediatric and adult practices.
Telehealth– The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting isolation and quarantine measures, shot down most attitudinal barriers that kept telehealth from becoming more mainstream. While it will never replace hands-on therapy sessions, telehealth appointments allow a form of direct interaction with patients, is becoming more accepted with parity for payment by insurance companies, and gives therapists options for scheduling, at home interaction with patients, family consultations, and secondary revenue streams. Re- opening brick and mortar offices does not mean the end of telehealth. It is to not just useful in an emergency and is becoming a permanent secondary revenue stream, increasing patient volumes, attracting new patients who cannot or choose not to travel, and helps to convert cancellations into sessions
Video Games- More and more homes have access to a video game console. Many of these that are motion sensitive allow patients to engage in hands-on activities that work on coordination, balance, strengthening in a very engaging and interactive way. Integrating gaming with virtual reality ( below) is also gaining traction in the therapy world.
Virtual Reality Sessions -Many practices have now started integrating virtual reality for their patients. These tools allow patients to become immersed in a virtual reality environment that is highly interactive and challenging, while improving balance, optimizing coordination, and increasing mobility. Why work on ambulation around a clinic, when a patient can walk down an outdoor path complete with a finish line. Blending the engaging environment with the gaming aspects helps challenge patients to develop new strategies for balance, coordination, and mobility.
Robotics – No we are not getting replaced, but yes, practices are now starting to integrate robotic machinery into their regimen to supplement direct therapist interaction. These are highly advanced and are capable of overseeing physical activities including helping to teach patients how to walk again, self feed etc. after severe illnesses and/or injuries.
Smart Equipment – There is an increase in intelligent equipment being used with other types of technologies in therapy practices. These include anti-gravity treadmills, robotics-based treadmills and exercise machines, and machinery that specializes in core body training.
Mobile Apps – Yes there is an app for that, and what is so great is that you can integrate apps for all parts of your practice – everything from staff education, meetings, billing, to apps for direct patient education, and exercise, and even the ability to create apps specifically for your own patients.
The goal of any healthcare provider is to improve the outcomes for clients while offering the best service experience, and all in the most cost efficient manner. There is no doubt that new technologies and platforms are increasing convenience and engagement for both the therapist and the clients and families we work with. Technology will continue to evolve, and so will the ways we can use it.
Iris Kimberg, MS PT OTR CEO, Private Practice Opportunities and Guidance. com
Iris is a longtime private practice consultant and works with PTs OTs and ST across the USA on various aspects of practice startups, expansion, and practice sales. You can reach her at email@example.com