Read this to learn about the future of artificial intelligence in physical therapy and the benefits of using AI-driven tech for better patient care.
Artificial intelligence is making its way into nearly every professional sector, and healthcare is no exception. As new technologies arrive on the scene, clinic owners and physical therapists (PTs) are left wondering how their day-to-day roles will be impacted, with some PTs wondering if they’ll eventually be replaced.
We believe there’s a happy medium that empowers clinic owners, PTs, and, most importantly, patients. Rather than seeing AI as a tool that dehumanizes the recovery process, we see it as a way for PTs to give their patients more effective and personalized care.
Put more simply, artificial intelligence can be a game-changer for PTs and clinic owners who want to improve patient recovery outcomes and drastically reduce PT stress. With that in mind, let’s address a burning question among many PTs as they see AI-driven software entering their workspace.
Will AI replace physical therapists?
Let’s face it: artificial intelligence is simply better at gathering, organizing, and accurately sharing data than humans. Plus, a piece of tech never gets tired or needs a sick day, it never gets into the office late because of personal reasons, and it never stays late at the office to ask you for a raise. On the surface, artificial technology could arguably be seen as a more predictable, reliable, and cheaper solution than hiring a physical therapist.
But “more predictable, reliable, and cheaper” doesn’t equate to “better,”least of all when it comes to your patients’ physical rehabilitation. And this is something both clinic owners and physical therapists need to remember.
See, AI is reallygood at programmable tasks, such as:
Measuring movement and mobility with incredible accuracy
Guiding a patient to the correct form during rehabilitation exercises
Gathering and simplifying raw data
Sharing that data between patient and PT
The problem is that human recovery is so much more than rote movements and raw data. The reason AI will never replace physical therapists is that it can’t handle the more complex side of a PT’s obligation to their patients. These are things like customizing a patient’s recovery plan based on their progress and setbacks or interpreting collected data to determine the best path forward for a specific individual.
Most people going through recovery are in a fair amount of physical pain, sure—but they’re often in emotional pain, too. Recovery can be a painful, exhausting, and isolating experience. Supporting patients through those emotions is something AI is not (and never fully will be) able to accomplish as effectively as a human PT.
Now, this begs the question: What role should AI play in physical therapy?
There’s no reason why clinic owners and clinicians can’t leverage advanced technology in their patient care to:
Improve recovery outcomes for patients
Gather accurate, reliable data regarding patient progress
Reduce burnout among PTs by removing monotonous tasks from their day-to-day lives
Cut back the frequency with which patients need to physically come to the clinic for appointments (assuming the technology is accessible to patients at home)
The goal is to find the right piece of technology that empowers and supports your PTs as they do what they do best: helping your patients get well again. Now, let’s take a look at a few popular AI-driven software solutions for physical therapy and how they’re used to improve patient recovery today.
Exer Health is an AI-driven app that tracks your patients’ mobility and participation in their recovery protocols. And since it can be operated from any device with a camera, PTs don’t need to worry about working with new, complex tools that ultimately make their jobs more difficult.
Instead, Exer Health allows patients to perform home exercise protocols (HEPs) accurately using tablets or smartphones at home. It uses camera vision to precisely measure range of motion and to ensure proper form while patients are completing recovery exercises. Then, Health sends the PT personalized reports on how the patient is advancing.
Plus, patients receive a daily SMS to remind them to stick with their HEPs and, consequently, are more likely to achieve positive outcomes. This also gives the PT valuable data on the patient’s progress or obstacles (such as pain levels, for example), so PTs can adjust their care plan according to the patient’s unique needs.
In the end, this is the type of AI-driven technology that empowers PTs without threatening their jobs. Data collection and daily check-ins with patients isn’t just tedious work, but most PTs don’t even have time to perform these tasks. By handing this stuff off to an AI-powered solution, PTs get to focus their energy on the parts of the job they love: working alongside real people on their difficult road to recovery.
SWORD Health is another popular AI-driven software used for rehabilitation therapy. It focuses primarily on major musculoskeletal (MSK) pain, and it’s targeted at employers and in-house PTs.
Here’s how SWORD Health works:
First, the patient signs up and gets matched with a PT who creates a personalized plan for them.
Next, patients complete their HEPs and have the data sent directly to their SWORD PT.
Finally, patients have access to chat through the mobile app and can ask their PT any questions they may have.
Overall, SWORD Health has shown itself to be effective for large businesses by creating treatment plans for their employees. It’s also a good solution for highly motivated and autonomous patients who may not need in-person, direct contact with a local PT.
Physitrack is an app that can be used by private practices, hospitals, and elite athletes. It combines human input with machine learning to onboard and track patient outcomes. It also comes loaded with a library of exercise videos that patients can use to learn proper form during HEPs. Physitrack sends reminders through the app to keep patients motivated and on track, along with providing a messaging platform that allows PTs to chat in real time with patients who have questions or concerns. This app works with any smartphone or tablet and is available in 10+ languages.
Benefits of leveraging AI for your patients
At a time when healthcare workers across the board are struggling with burnout, many clinic owners are reluctant to ask their staff to learn a new piece of technology. The good news is that the current generation of healthcare technology is designed to be as user-friendly as any other app on your phone. Neither your patients nor your staff need to be tech wizards to wield sophisticated artificial intelligence.
Here are the two biggest benefits you can expect from incorporating the right AI tool in your clinic.
Run higher-quality in-person sessions with less effort
At its core, AI should improve human interaction, not replace it. Software like Exer Health allows PTs to record patients’ mobility and hold them more accountable in completing their recovery exercises.
But what might this look like in practice?
Let’s say a patient injured their shoulder and is meeting with a physical therapist for the first time. With Exer Health, the PT is able to measure important metrics like body joint range of motion using a tablet (like an iPad), a smartphone, or any other device with a camera. Exercise protocols get measured as well - count sets and reps - while the AI delivers real-time audio and visual instructions for proper exercise form.
This gives PTs the perfect resource for showing patients how to complete their HEPs between their in-person visits. This educational aspect of the PT/patient relationship is so important, and it’s one of the reasons that we don’t believe AI is a viable solution to replace PTs altogether. Instead, Exer Health improves the level of education PTs can provide patients at the beginning of treatment. The app can then serve as a source of truth for each patient’s recovery journey, arming the PT with ongoing HEP participation levels and measurements.
Achieve better recovery outcomes faster (and with less stress)
Achieving positive outcomes can be a difficult task for PTs because they often need to rely on their patient’s commitment to the recovery process and at-home HEP participation level. It’s why non-adherence to home exercise programs can be as low as 35% for general MSK conditions and as high as 50-70% in the lower-back-pain patient population.
These statistics can vary depending on the type of injury, of course. But the result is the same: if patients are not completing their HEPs, their recovery suffers. In the worst-case scenario, non-adherence to a HEP might even lead PTs to think their current recovery plan isn’t effective, causing them to make unnecessary or even harmful changes to the patient’s at-home exercises.
But the right AI software empowers your patients to take recovery back into their own hands. They’ll feel confident that they're doing the right exercises with the correct form and the right number of reps/sets. These patients can also rest assured knowing that their PT will see their progress and metrics. Software like Exer Health helps keep patients accountable to their HEP, and compliments that with daily SMS surveys to measure their perceived pain levels, which gives PTs the data they need to achieve faster, better results.
Artificial intelligence is the future of physical therapy
Advances in technology have always been met with both open arms and healthy skepticism: some mistakenly believe that the latest technology will solve everything, while others stubbornly insist that it can't solve anything.
But the right piece of AI-driven software can be an absolute game-changer that:
Removes tedious documentation tasks from a PT’s day-to-day schedule
Provides PTs with precise, reliable data on all their patients