Six Advancements in Physical Therapy for 2023

Published on January 30th, 2023.

In 2023, PT practice owners are seeing technology trends that could change the standard of patient care for good. These new developments in physical therapy make patient care more accessible and easier to administer and yield better results than some of the "tried and true" industry standards.

So, what are the hottest PT trends emerging, and how are they being implemented by PTs? In this article, you'll learn about the six latest technological advancements in physical therapy and how they'll impact your practice over the coming years.

Six Latest Advancements in Physical Therapy

1. Motion Capture Tech

In combination with other technology (and quality of life) improvements like telehealth therapy, wearable tech is gaining steam as the preferred way millennials improve movement and manage pain. Usually, in the form of sensors that attach to different body parts, this tech tracks and logs movement based on the optimal range of motion. Physical therapists can link these sensors to programmable apps to create personalized care plans for better results and ease of access.

MIO Therapy is one of the leaders in the wearable tech space. They offer an app that provides personalized care plans for specific injuries. These care plans involve interactive games (more on this below) that enhance recovery using points and rewards systems. Physical therapists who can build sensor technology into their practice can differentiate themselves and appeal to a more targeted audience.

Wearable tech provides multiple benefits for patients undergoing PT. These include helping paralyzed individuals walk, thus improving their mobility and quality of life. Specific types of wearable tech for PT applications include exoskeleton suits and sensor skins.

For example, Ekso Bionics has developed an exoskeleton called an Eksosuit for total-body muscular rehabilitation. This full-length device attaches to the shoulders, hips, and legs to assist patients with all types of mobility impairment. The Eksosuit helps patients relearn how to overcome limb paralysis and deal with fatigue during therapy.

Cipher Skin is a new technology that measures a patient's limb movements. It wraps around the arms or legs to assess range of motion, force generation, and muscle growth. Cipher Skin also monitors vital signs like heart rate, body temperature, and oxygen. Instrumented insoles are also available to PT patients, which measure pressure distribution and send this data to a computer via Bluetooth technology. These devices provide therapists with accurate information on their patients in real-time.

2. Virtual Reality

As Facebook becomes "Meta," Apple works on new VR headsets, and Nvidia promises us artificial intelligence that will power a future in the "Metaverse" many PTs are left wondering, "What role will VR play in physical therapy?" Right now, there's more than just buzz about the combination of VR and physical therapy. In a 2019 study, researchers measured the effects of virtual reality technology on a small group of patients experiencing problems with balance and gait due to Parkinson's disease. The VR tech group experienced "significantly better performance compared with the conventional physical therapy group." It's easy to see why patients who enjoy VR can often move past mental barriers to recover more efficiently.

Companies like XRHealth are already offering virtual care using augmented reality. Patients receive VR headsets in the mail and train with physical therapists to recover from specific injuries independently.

VR helps patients improve balance, coordination, and motor control, while also allowing PTs to provide more personalized treatment. Specific use cases for VR include therapy for sports injuries and neurological conditions. VR technology used for these applications primarily simulates environments for making movements like walking, running, and skiing, in addition to more specialized movements for specific sports. Therapists also use VR to make assessments by developing a more accurate picture of the patient's ability. The power of VR to make PT more engaging is another benefit of this technology.

For example, Jintronix is a VR tool that helps senior patients rehabilitate via a home exercise program. It provides entertaining simulations while guiding them through their treatment and recording their progress. Jinotronix includes over 100 exercises for improving muscle strength, gait, and problem-solving ability.

Wii-Hab is another example of therapy gamification that's based on Nintendo's WiiFit video games. Its game-like style boosts the patient's interest in performing PT, increasing the duration and frequency of the exercises. Wii-Hab includes a balance board, which helps to simulate a clinical environment more seamlessly.

3. Video Games

Video games integrate with physical therapy more than some might realize, with some of the largest game-makers in the world creating specific games for enhanced mobility and exercise. These games reach every medium discussed in this article, including consoles, VR machines, phone apps, and wearable tech. The power of video games and physical therapy is the fun factor involved.

Nearly one in five physical therapy appointments is missed annually in the United States. These missed appointments lead to poor patient recovery, loss of revenue, and wasted time. Video games make physical therapy palatable for those who struggle with recovery. And as technology is improving, so are the graphics and performance of these video games.

For instance, in the past five years, mobile gaming has taken off, seeing exponential growth in every country with powerful chips that boast beautiful graphics and high-speed performance. These technological advancements ensure every patient has the hardware needed for PTs to prescribe highly-engaging treatment plans.

Video games can help PT patients improve their rehabilitation, including motor performance, balance, and disease management. PTs often use the Nintendo Switch platform for these purposes, especially Ring Fit Adventure. This game allows the player to explore a fantasy world by using real-life exercises, including jogging in place to travel, overhead shoulder presses to attack enemies, and regaining health with yoga poses. Ring Fit comes with accessories like Leg Strap and Ring-Con, which translate real-world actions into in-game movements. Ring Fit Adventure also offers customizable workout routines for players of all skills and abilities.

A 2021 study at Chiba University investigated the therapeutic effects of Ring Fit for patients with chronic low back pain, in which the study group performed a 40-minute session once a week for eight weeks. The study measured and analyzed psychological factors such as kinesiophobia, pain catastrophizing, and pain self-efficacy. The results showed that pain was significantly reduced for members of the study group as compared to the control group.

4. Rehabilitation Robotics

Assistive and rehabilitation robotics is an emerging PT trend using robotics to assist with cognitive, motor-skill therapy, and post-surgery rehabilitation. Specific applications include gait training and neural rehab. These robots, often in the form of exoskeletons, empower patients by assisting them with functionality. This assistance can be tweaked to support and challenge patients and scale in difficulty as their recovery progresses.

Another form of robotics deployed in the PT field is intelligent prosthetics robotics that helps patients regain functionality they otherwise would never get back.

Rehab robots help ensure PT patients perform their exercises correctly while increasing training intensity. They also allow a single therapist to treat multiple patients simultaneously and track the progress of their patients. Use cases for rehab robots include home-based PT, where continual access to PT is especially convenient. A PT robot could reduce the need for therapists, especially in rural areas. It could also find common use in elder care, where it could save billions of dollars by helping people stay in their own homes longer.

An ongoing study at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst is investigating the benefits of such a robot in providing speech and physical therapy for a 72-year-old male recovering from a stroke. Study leader Yu-kyong Choe reports that the child-sized humanoid robot offers word-retrieval games and assists the patient in performing movements in an enjoyable, engaging way. This type of robot is particularly effective for helping patients repeatedly perform the same arm movements over a long period.

5. PT Practice Management Software

While PT software is relatively common, new features automate trivial tasks with pinpoint accuracy—tasks that used to cost hours of labor. Recent updates in software make physical therapists' lives easier by automating and optimizing daily work, including billing, communications, EMR, and telehealth. The latest PT practice management software keeps patient security and accuracy at the forefront of operations, making running a PT practice more profitable and less time-consuming.

The benefits of PT software include greater operational efficiency and a lower burnout rate for PTs. Use cases for this type of software include tracking a PT clinic's productivity, monitoring regulatory compliance, financial reporting, and scheduling patients.

PT software should provide administrators with a unified experience by requiring data to be entered only once across all functional areas like billing, documentation, and scheduling. It should also improve visibility into operations by ensuring information remains current, especially for time-critical tasks such as alerts, notifications, and tracking treatments. A PT practice management system that connects everyone with interactive communications and controls is essential for keeping patients happy and maintaining a steady cash flow.

The billing process in any medical practice consists of many highly interconnected tasks, including reviewing claims, submitting them, managing electronic remittance advice (ERA), tracking rejections, and collections. The ability to capture this data smoothly and automatically is a hallmark of good practice management software. This software should also be able to pull data from all areas of the practice when generating reports, allowing administrators to quickly submit claims that will be accepted for the first time. In addition, software should provide a wide selection of metrics that identify ways to improve the workflow.

6. 3D Movement Imaging

Therapists use 3D Diagnostic Movement (3DM) to assess the patient's entire body while making movements or bearing weight. The data they collect allows therapists to quickly pinpoint the causes of pain and mobility restrictions.

3DM Diagnostics performs an assessment in 10 minutes, which a licensed professional can analyze to identify the patient's strengths and weaknesses. A treatment team can then develop a customized program to prevent further injury and correct muscle imbalances. Kinotek creates 3DM images of the patient's movements from any angle, providing clinicians with valuable insights. Taking these images before and after treatment allows patients to observe their progress over time. Clinicians can also copy/paste Kinotek images directly into the patient's record.

There's already been considerable improvement in recovery due to closer adherence to home exercise programs that give patients unparalleled flexibility and ease of access. Patients also seem to love virtual care, with no overall difference in patient satisfaction between in-person and virtual care models. And from a PT's perspective, the time savings from virtual care can boost productivity. Overall, telehealth technology is taking off because the product is better, faster, and more time efficient than in-person treatment in specific use cases.

Best practices for implementing telehealth in PT practices include choosing the right area for a telehealth visit. This location should be quiet and well-lit, with a door for patient privacy. Notify others in the building of the visit, especially if you're at home.

Equip the computer with the proper hardware and software, along with the best possible internet connection. You should also ensure it has plenty of storage space and no unnecessary programs running to prevent any unnecessary delays during the remote visit. The teleconferencing software must be HIPPA compliant and should be fully integrated with the practice's electronic medical records (EMRs).

The Bottom Line: Capitalizing on Advancements in PT

Technology is moving faster than ever, and PT practice owners must adapt to the latest and greatest to maintain their appeal to patients. Many advancements like virtual care, robotics, and the gamification of treatment are already giving patients better care and more flexibility. If you're considering upgrading the tech your practice offers to bring in more patients; many practice owners start slow with an upgrade of their existing PT software.

Source: MW Therapy 

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