Physical Therapy

5 Biggest Physical Therapy Trends in 2022

Staying on top of these physical therapy trends will help your practice remain competitive.

At the start of the pandemic, 72% of owners of Physical Therapy Clinics experienced revenue losses in excess of 50% at some point.

It's been a long and slow road to recovery. But the challenges of the pandemic also pushed physical therapy forward in ways that are here to stay. Being aware of these five key physical therapy trends will help your clinic remain competitive in the coming months and beyond.

The rise of telehealth services

As of July 2021, the use of telehealth was 38 times higher than pre-pandemic levels, and by November 2021, 55% of patients said they were more satisfied with telehealth/virtual care visits than with in-person appointments.

One of the biggest benefits of telehealth in physical therapy is that it makes treatment options more accessible to your patients. With telehealth, patients don't need to commute to your clinic or make childcare arrangements. Telehealth also allows for greater flexibility between PTs and their patients when making appointments that suit both of their schedules. All that's needed is a device with a working microphone and camera and Wi-Fi access, and you're good to go.

With a smartphone or tablet, a physical therapist can show a patient exercises and then coach them on the right way to do them. On top of that, apps, in-home hardware, and AI-driven wearables can be used in sync to enhance telehealth consultations. This technology can collect real-time data, correct workout form, measure performance, and provide accurate feedback on patient progress to PT providers.

However, since physical contact is impossible with virtual physical therapy, PTs will need to establish trust and convey empathy. Showing empathy can help counteract some of the unique stresses and disconnects created by telehealth.

Expressing empathy during video appointments requires physical therapists to pay attention and know how to respond to verbal and nonverbal cues. The Institute for Healthcare Improvement recommends using the mnemonic SAVE to help express empathy via Telemedicine:

  • S for support — I'm here to answer all your questions.
  • A for acknowledge — I can see this is a hard exercise for you. How can I help?
  • V for validation — That last routine was a tough one. Great job making it work.
  • E for emotion naming — You seem tense. Help me understand how you feel right now.

A greater push for patient engagement

Over the last few years, the need to engage patients in a highly personalized manner has been gaining traction across the healthcare industry. In fact, a study found that improved patient engagement is associated with better patient experience, health, quality of life, and economic outcomes.

The COVID-19 pandemic heightened the urgency and importance of personalized engagement. As we progress through a post-pandemic world, patient-focused design is needed to achieve longer-term success and ensure a positive experience.

One of the ways this can be achieved is by collecting data in the form of feedback from patients to identify areas where you need to better connect and engage with them. For example, you can send a patient satisfaction survey via email, have it on your website or app, or send a link to patients so they can open it after completing a video consultation.

In your survey, you can ask current patients questions like "how would you rate your experience today?" and include both rating systems and text boxes to allow them to make comments directly. A satisfaction survey is also a great way to get feedback from patients who drop out of a physical therapy program before completing their course of treatment.

Overall, feedback from patients about their experiences provides insight into their needs, preferences, and values, which can help you make changes to improve the quality and safety of their care.

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The rise of home-based care

The number of businesses in the Home Care Providers industry in the U.S. has grown 4.9% per year on average between 2017 and 2022. In addition to consumer preferences for receiving home-based rather than facility-based care, research from McKinsey indicates that home-based care services have the potential to unlock higher-quality care for consumers at a lower cost for health systems.

Through home care, physical therapists can learn more about patients by seeing them in their homes than they could in a generic examination room. There may be important clues in their surroundings that can help generate better individualized treatment plans. For example, an ergonomic assessment of a patient's workspace can be performed to provide better solutions. In addition, home stretching and fitness routines can be developed to target specific areas of the body, as well as corrective exercise programs and guidance for better form and posture.

For therapists who specialize in elderly care, there is no better place to evaluate a patient's mobility than in their own home. The therapist can prevent falls within the home by identifying and eliminating fall risks and other hazards.

While a home-based physical therapy service has its benefits, it can be tricky to set up and manage. There are many factors to consider, including getting the proper documentation and hiring the right team. The American Physical Therapy Association has extensive guidelines to help your clinic provide physical therapy in the home. It includes information on training a new physical therapist, scheduling home visits, evaluating patients, and more.

An increased focus on staff burnout

Physical therapist burnout has plagued the industry for years. Before the pandemic, 34% of physical therapists said that burnout negatively affected their patient care. Studies in Portugal, Poland, and South Korea have all revealed that PTs experienced burnout during the pandemic. Physical therapists dealt with the same pandemic stressors as everyone while also struggling to provide hands-on care without compromising their safety.

It shouldn't be surprising then that physical therapists are overworked and tired. If that burnout causes a PT to quit, then you need to spend time, energy, and resources to replace them.

Therefore, as part of your regular employee evaluation, consider using a checklist or self-test such as this one from MindTools for your staff to assess their mental health and level of burnout. Based on the results, you can take steps to reduce burnout, such as committing to ethical scheduling practices.

The growing use of advanced technology

New technologies (such as augmented reality and artificial intelligence) are driving rehabilitation and physical therapy innovation.

Promising studies over the last two years have shown that Augmented Reality (AR) is effective for hand rehabilitation and improves balance among older adults. AR can also be used to gamify and transform what would otherwise be mundane and routine exercise into fun and engaging activities. For example, an AR-based physical therapy exercise could involve showing patients floating boxes on a screen that serve as targets to encourage them to stretch and reach high enough to touch the box and complete the motion.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is also changing physical therapy. AI-powered apps can be used for programmable tasks, such as accurately measuring movement and mobility, guiding patients on the correct form during rehabilitation exercises, and collecting and sharing data between patients and PTs. Some of the benefits include improved pain management, improved long-term adherence, and improved clinical oversight for patients. For physical therapists, it can help reduce burnout by removing tedious tasks from their work life.

Advanced technology can be difficult to grasp for those who aren't technologically savvy, especially when it comes to specialized equipment that typically has a learning curve. But Exer Physio is simple for PTs and patients to use and can be operated from any device with a camera. It uses artificial intelligence and cameras to accurately measure the patient's range of motion and ensure proper form while completing recovery exercises. The results are tracked in real time in an easy-to-read dashboard.

Stay ahead of the curve

The last few years have reaffirmed the adage that the only constant in life is change. While you can't predict the future, the best defense against unexpected and uncomfortable change is a good offensive strategy. Staying on top of the trends outlined in this article will help your physical therapy practice thrive and remain competitive.

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