Despite how challenging this past year has been, there is still a lot to look forward to in terms of where the rehab therapy industry is heading. After all, the pace of innovation isn’t slowing down for anything—not even the novel coronavirus. Instead of looking backwards, today, we thought we’d look ahead. Here are some of the newest innovations in PT:
New Technology Innovations in PT
1. Red Light Therapy
Light therapy has been growing in popularity over the past several years—for both medical and personal use. To put it simply, this treatment modality involves applying light—in either a near- or far-infrared spectrum—to produce a positive response in cells. According to this resource, “light therapy acts on light-reactive molecules in our cells called chromophores. Just like the chlorophyll in plants, chromophores trigger a cellular response when exposed to certain wavelengths of light.” This non-invasive treatment option has been shown to reduce inflammation and “increase cellular production of [adenosine triphosphate] ATP, collagen, DNA and other materials our body uses to heal.”
For rehab therapists, red light therapy can be an asset in helping patients recover faster. Speaking from personal experience, it can also be extremely relaxing, which helps the body enter into a parasympathetic state that is ideal for healing.
The above-cited resource also discusses the emergence of robotics in the field of rehab therapy to assist patients with paralysis. Instead of the PT physically manipulating a patient’s extremities to practice proper movement techniques, a robotic treadmill or exoskeleton does it—with more precision and accuracy than a person could. According to the resource, these solutions are ideal for stroke patients as well as those with “brain or spinal injury, cerebral palsy, and multiple sclerosis.” (Robots are also being used to provide care during the pandemic.)
3. Virtual Reality
Virtual reality can transform your office—or a patient’s home—into any environment that a client desires, which means completing one’s in-clinic or at-home exercise program just got a lot more fun. According to the same resource, “patients training to walk correctly can envision crossing a finish line.” And because “VR games respond to the user’s movements…they can be used to inspire any movement or exercise needed for therapy.”
New Clinic Model Innovations in PT
4. Collaborative Care
At some point, collaborative care will stop being innovative, because it will just be the norm. But for now, it still deserves a spot on this list. After all, an integrated care team—one that focuses on collaboration as opposed to competition—really does serve patients (and providers) best. Now, whether you decide to partner with another provider within your practice or integrate with a whole other practice, you’ll need to figure out how to share data. While the entire industry is (and has been) moving toward greater interoperability, true unfettered data-sharing is still a ways out. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t inject some elements of interoperability into your current operations—for example, by using a software platform that enables easy information exchange.
Here are some specific benefits of integrated care teams (as explained here):
- “They create a more well-rounded approach to care;
- “They reduce patient healthcare spending;
- “They allow for more efficient referral processes; and
- “They improve health outcomes through provider collaboration.”
5. Hybrid Virtual Practices
With the pandemic, PTs have been able to leverage telehealth more than ever before. Through virtual visits, they’ve improved their reach and connected with many patients who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to access care. Of course, even after the COVID-19 situation stabilizes, telehealth remains a valuable care option.
We already know that churn is a major issue in this industry, so having the technology available to serve patients from the comfort of their home—or hotel room—could mean the difference between keeping patients engaged in their care, or having them drop out of therapy for good. If you want to go all-in on a virtual practice model, that’s possible, too. But, you could also simply dip your toe in the telehealth pool by offering patients the opportunity to connect with their PT between sessions—to discuss HEP questions, for example. The options and opportunities are endless. And as WebPT Co-Founder and Chief Clinical Officer Heidi Jannenga and WebPT CEO Nancy Ham explained during this webinar, a hybrid practice model that incorporates both virtual and in-clinic care truly is the PT practice structure of the future.
Speaking of innovative technology that also helps you connect with patients between sessions—and thus, improve the patient experience—patient relationship management software is gaining big-time traction. After all, this type of software enables providers to not only send relevant and timely information to patients throughout their course of care, but also improve visibility and word-of-mouth referrals through targeted marketing campaigns. Staying connected with your patients between appointments—and keeping a pulse on the patient experience—becomes even more important when you’re operating virtually.
6. Concierge and Subscription-Based Businesses
For many PTs, the days of dealing with third-party insurance companies are numbered. After all, payers have a long-standing history of undervaluing rehab therapists. While concierge and subscription-based services are relatively new in health care, they are popping up in more and more places. Not only does this type of business model allow PTs to turn a healthy profit, but it also enables them to (usually) give more time and attention to each patient. Think of all the extra time you’d have if you weren’t trying to pack your schedule to counteract paltry insurance payments—or if you didn’t have to deal with the billing and appeals process at all.
The challenge, of course, is that charging patients a membership fee to access your services may not work for all populations in all markets. But for those who are willing to try something new, there are notable benefits—including the potential to reduce healthcare spending in the long run by focusing on wellness before an acute issue presents. Even if you don’t think a concierge or subscription-based model is right for you, you may consider adding some cash-pay wellness services into your repertoire. (Check out this guide to learn how.) Even a handful of additional service offerings could help you provide more value to your patients and create a new revenue stream for your practice.
There you have it: six of the newest innovations in PT. But, this list is far from exhaustive. Have other new and exciting innovations in rehab therapy to share? Drop us a note in the comment section below. We’d love to hear where you’re taking the industry next.