New Technologies in Physical Therapy
As part of National Physical Therapy Month, it seems natural to extend the conversation about the amazing care being provided by our nations’ Physical Therapists to also touch on new technologies that are or will soon be available. As in every industry, technology is having an impact, and in the world of physical therapy, advancements are helping to improve treatments and provide greater access to care. Let’s examine some of the technology that is on the horizon.
Collecting and Using Data. One of the greatest benefits of new technologies for Physical Therapy and healthcare, in general, is the advancements in the collection and use of data. Never before have healthcare providers had access to the amount of research and data than they have today. For example, researchers in the Netherlands created suit equipped with dozens of sensors to collect information about stroke survivors. These sensors monitored strength, flexibility, gait, and other metrics. The collation of this data allows PT providers to more closely monitor patient progress and better focus treatment plans on patient needs.
Redefining Robots. When you hear the word robot, thanks to ‘Hollywood,' you are probably thinking of the variety of robots found in the Star Wars franchise. However, Physical Therapy treatments using robotics are anything but having large, block-shaped or human-like metallic entities assisting patient movements. New robotic developments are using softer materials that are more comfortable and easier for patients to become accustomed to. Referred to as “Soft Actuators,” the technology is being developed as assistive wearable devices to help in treating any number of movement disorders.
Video Games. One of the challenges Physical therapists often have is motivating their patients to put forth the effort to fully perform the necessary movements and exercises in their treatment plan. Many practices are incorporating the use of video games as part of the rehabilitation process. The video games are designed to require the patient (players) to perform activities that help to develop balance and stability, improve range of motion, coordination, and reflexes. The game appeals to the patient’s innate sense of competition and adds a new, fun element versus more traditional therapy techniques.
Online and Telehealth. A lot of time has been spent discussing the explosion of telehealth as part of the healthcare model of the future. Telehealth is best thought of as a way to provide better patient access for those living in rural areas or does not have access to transportation. Telehealth is also an important advancement for Physical Therapists, especially as a means to motivate patients to fulfill the necessary treatments for rehabilitation and recovery. One such use is for individuals who have received a knee replacement. The CDC reports that only 70% of the 700,000 annual knee replacement patients actually complete their post-surgical physical therapy. Utilizing telehealth and online video technology to connect with the patient on their terms can help them complete their treatments, reduce readmissions and chronic pain.
Let’s face it, technology will always be an important part of the process of treating patients with movement and other debilitating disorders, but will never replace the importance of the personal interaction between the Physical Therapist and their patient. New technologies are simply tools in the PT’s toolbox, and while they may be shiny and new, they are no different than resistance bands, exercise balls, broomsticks and hand weights. Today’s PT has more choices in what to include as part of a treatment plan, but in the hands of a good therapist, shiny and new with bells and whistles may not always be more effective than the tried and true tools of the past.
What new technologies are you using in your PT practice? What are your favorite treatment tools? Share your thoughts with your colleagues in the comment section below, or drop us a line on our Facebook page.