I’ll admit it: I’ve spent many a late night on YouTube, venturing deep into all of the wonderful weirdness it has to offer. It’s become an integral piece of the current pop culture zeitgeist and has given content creators, business owners, and anyone with an opinion and a smartphone a platform on which to broadcast themselves. (And, thanks to YouTube, I still can’t hear the Jurassic Park theme without thinking of this.) So, it’s no surprise that physical therapy has been affected by this cultural phenomenon.
Patients who use online videos as a substitute for one-on-one therapy put their health at risk.
Don’t get me wrong: online videos can definitely serve an important purpose for PTs. They’re great for advertising your services and generating name recognition, and they can help promote movement over meds. But, online videos can’t replace one-on-one, guided treatment with a licensed physical therapy provider. In fact, patients who turn to YouTube instead of a physical therapist for treatment of their musculoskeletal disorders risk exacerbating their symptoms, creating new ones, or re-injuring themselves. And that can end up costing patients a lot more in the long run.
So, why do patients turn to YouTube for self-treatment when the outcomes are so iffy? Simple: Because YouTube tutorials are:
- totally free, and
- easy to access.
Outcomes data helps PTs prove the efficacy of their care.
It’s hard to compete with free—especially with the increasing financial burden that the modern healthcare system places on patients. But, as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for—and physical therapy is certainly no exception to that. For one thing, YouTube provides zero accountability, and without someone to hold patients accountable to their treatment plans, it’s easy for them to veer off track. Plus, physical therapists can provide concrete positive reinforcement by continually administering measurable, industry-accepted outcomes tests—and sharing the results with their patients. Conversely, online videos provide no indication of functional progress, which may discourage patients from continuing to complete their exercises.
Still, healthcare tech plays an important role in the care process.
At this moment, a potential back pain patient can plug “back pain exercises” into Google and receive more than 1 million video results. But, without the instruction of a licensed provider, the patient may not perform the exercises correctly. Furthermore, a therapy provider can help determine if there’s a serious, underlying issue that’s contributing to the patient’s back pain. Still, smartphone technology has made it super-easy to pull up YouTube videos anytime, anywhere, for anything. After all, the Internet has no office hours. So, unless you’re on call 24/7 (which may not be practical), it can be tough to compete—especially if you don’t have the right tools.
Home Exercise Program (HEP) Software
If you haven’t adopted an electronic HEP, you’re missing out—big time. The right HEP software will offer online tutorials that patients can access 24 hours a day. The big difference, of course, is that all of those exercises are peer-reviewed, prescribed by you (the therapy expert), and completed under your guidance. That, in turn, leads to better, more measurable outcomes—and you can’t say that about YouTube tutorials. After all, a patient wouldn’t prescribe his or her own medication, so why should he or she prescribe his or her own HEP?
We know that the telehealth landscape still has to evolve quite a bit before every PT can take full advantage of this technology. For example, per this year’s final rule from CMS, the list of proposed therapy-specific telehealth codes eligible for reimbursement was again rejected due to the fact that PTs (along with OTs and SLPs) are not included on the list of telehealth-eligible providers. However, many commercial payers—and in some states, Medicaid—will reimburse physical therapists for telehealth services.
Why is this relevant? Well, much like an electronic HEP, telehealth services help providers meet the needs of patients who can’t always justify leaving their homes to access health services. For instance, let’s say a major snow storm strikes your patient’s area during the work day, making the trek to your clinic risky and prompting the patient to cancel his or her appointment. Depending on your own schedule and how bad the roads are, it could be a week or longer before that patient is able to see you. If you’re able to virtually connect with the patient via a HIPAA-compliant telehealth platform, however, it could provide the exact type of care continuity the patient needs in order to remain on track with the treatment plan you developed.
PTs must position themselves as experts.
You’re great at what you do. You know it, and because you’re taking the time to read this, I know it, too. But no matter how amazing you are, it won’t matter if your potential patients don’t know it. In order to steer patients toward your practice—and away from YouTube—you must begin thinking of YouTube as another competitor. So, take everything you learned from the previous sections, and market yourself and your practice accordingly. Want to get some tips from the pros? Check out this resource on modern marketing best practices for PTs.
YouTube: It’s great for funny videos, documentaries, and learning the lyrics to rap songs, but not so great for treating musculoskeletal disorders. For some folks, it might take a bit of convincing, but with the right tools and a little marketing savvy, your patients will know that you’re truly irreplaceable.