Increasing rehabilitation adherence with the Digital Therapist

Why Sword
July 31, 2019
Digital Therapist: Better PT results

Following surgery, the body undergoes a period of healing. Postoperative physical therapy is the first-choice strategy for faster and better recovery, helping the patient return to work and perform everyday activities as they would before the surgery. The rehabilitation process usually entails an intensive exercise program that extends for weeks and can include both in-clinic and at-home sessions. Committing to the process and maintaining adherence are the most fundamental aspects of physical therapy — and the hardest to accomplish, too.

The many barriers to rehabilitation adherence

Non-adherence to physical therapy programs is the result of the many obstacles that patients encounter or perceive along the way.

Barriers such as transportation problems — especially in those cases where patients can’t drive, thus becoming a “burden” for family or friends — childcare needs, work schedules, and financial constraints are common reasons to fail appointments. Other barriers, however, could be as limiting, especially when talking about at-home physical therapy sessions.

Poor self-efficacy, that is, when the patient lacks confidence in their ability to perform a given task, can determine whether the treatment is effective or not. Left on their own, without qualified supervision or feedback, they no longer feel confident they are on the right path.

How Sword’s Digital Therapist brings barriers down

To tackle this problem, different strategies and approaches have been proposed, and our Digital Therapist brings some into play:

Freeing patients from appointment scheduling

Perhaps the first advantage that comes to mind when talking digital is convenience. Because the Digital Therapist supervises the therapy session from the comfort of the patient's home, barriers such as fitting an appointment into their busy days or lacking transportation to a clinic are no longer an issue.

Giving structure to at-home rehabilitation

Improving self-efficacy is a top priority when it comes to increasing rehabilitation adherence.

By giving patients access to demo videos on how to perform each exercise along with real-time feedback on their performance, they become more confident in their ability to go through with the prescribed program. That’s exactly what the Digital Therapist gives them: structure, supervision, and positive reinforcement.

Allowing patients to track their progress

Another way to improve confidence and self-efficacy is to increase patient empowerment by giving them a sense of control over their own rehabilitation process.

With the Digital Therapist, patients have access to a summary of their performance in each session. Alongside the guidance from their human physical therapist, this allows patients to track their progress and understand not only what they still have to improve but also how far they have come.

Improving patient engagement through gamification strategies

By turning the physical therapy program into a game — with specific goals to achieve and rewards to earn — the Digital Therapist gives patients a sense of purpose and accomplishment during the rehabilitation process. This gamified therapy taps into the innate human needs for achievement and reward, compelling patients to improve their performance and attain more powerful results. More motivation to improve means higher patient engagement and, consequently increased compliance. And that is an important step forward to success.

The Digital Therapist’s most powerful asset: the human touch

SWORD’s rehabilitation programs go beyond the digital approach. We believe in human+machine collaboration.

Every patient is assigned a Physical Therapist, who is always available to provide support and encouragement when needed. Knowing that their Physical Therapist is there to help them throughout the rehabilitation process can make a difference in the patient’s progress. In fact, they are most likely to adhere to the prescribed program if they perceive a positive relationship with their therapist. This positive relationship also fosters open and transparent communication, which is important to address patients' fears and anxieties about pain and self-efficacy, building up their trust in the process.

And to make sure patients not only get better but stay better, communication is focused on continuous patient education and behavioral change, so they can achieve long-standing results, not just temporary.

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