What is Digital Physical Therapy?

Sword Solutions
November 22, 2022
What is digital physical therapy and how can it help me?

APTA recognizes that digital health care is not just a possibility for the future - it's a reality of the present

Right now, as an employer, you’re overspending on surgeries, medication, imaging, and clinical intervention related to musculoskeletal (MSK) pain. Physical therapy has the unique potential to help your company save money, while addressing issues long term (rather than creating quick and costly solutions) — but unfortunately, engagement in physical therapy is low. So, you must figure out how to deliver life-giving pain management to your people in the most effective manner.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for healthcare to be accessible outside of traditional, brick-and-mortar clinics. Over 50% of your employees suffer from pain related to MSK disorders, and nearly 60% of the American workforce have turned their homes into their offices. Digital physical therapy makes it easy for them to receive access to physical therapy, but is it better than brick-and-mortar physical therapy?

What is digital physical therapy?

Digital physical therapy is physical therapy delivered through technology. Programs which offer physical therapists maintain all the same clinical rigor as an in-clinic program, and in fact, digital PT gives patients greater flexibility and freedom when finding help for their pain via computer, phone, or tablet.

Take Nick, for example. Nick is 42, a father, and an avid golfer. In 2020, he moved his office to his home. For nearly six years, he’s dealt with chronic shoulder pain, and it’s impacted his job performance. Last year, he missed 13 days of work due to debilitating flare-ups. Nick is not alone — over half of American adults deal with MSK pain.

Remote physical therapy

Nick goes to a brick-and-mortar clinic for physical therapy and receives a list of exercises from his physical therapist to do at home. He misses work for appointments, but skips his appointments on busy days. When he brushes up on his home exercises, he’s worried they’re incorrect or ineffective.

Nick would be an ideal candidate for a digital physical therapy solution: one he can complete at home when convenient, which corrects his form and movement in real-time.

With digital physical therapy, patients utilize technology to perform exercises prescribed by a physical therapist. They wear motion sensors or use a tablet camera to capture their movements, which then provides real-time feedback to both them and their physical therapist. The patient also uses a tablet or a mobile device with videos to guide their exercises. Digital physical therapy makes it possible to receive clinical-grade physical therapy from anywhere.

Physical therapy at home

As your employee does the exercises at home, biofeedback flags both them and their physical therapist to know if they are performing the movements correctly. The program also instructs on how to improve form and get the best results. The data gathered gives the physical therapist the information they need to customize the program and improve their pain.

Digital physical therapy solves many problems, including convenience, adherence, and most importantly, ensuring your employee performs exercises as prescribed.

While MSK pain primarily impacts the joints, being in pain brings a host of other issues—anxiety, depression, fear avoidance, decreased productivity at work, and more. Research shows a marked improvement in emotional health through the pain-relieving power of digital physical therapy. But it does other things too: reduces surgery, improves sleep habits, slashes medical costs, and enhances productivity, to name a few.

In fact, digital physical therapy is the most effective way to improve overall employee health.

What is virtual physical therapy? Is it the same thing as digital physical therapy?

Both digital and virtual physical therapy are forms of telehealth, but they are not necessarily synonymous. Virtual PT is delivered electronically. For example, your physical therapist video calls you to talk about your knee pain and gives you exercises to do. She watches you perform the exercises before hanging up and may send a follow-up email with videos of the prescribed exercises for homework. That’s virtual physical therapy: live interaction between you and your physical therapist.

Digital physical therapy may involve that type of communication between patient and PT, but has the huge advantage of real-time biofeedback. Motion sensors or cameras capture your precise movements—every movement, every session. Virtual physical therapy is completed through synchronous video or audio communication whereas digital physical therapy leverages technology — both software and hardware — to provide feedback.

With digital PT, the patient gets real-time feedback when they are not performing the exercise correctly. The technology recognizes and communicates to the tablet that the patient’s form is wrong, either because the patient is compensating, or even because they are doing it in a potentially harmful way. The tablet prompts them on how to correct their form so they can execute correctly. On the back end, the physical therapist can see when they have difficulty with the exercise. If the difficulty continues with each repetition, the physical therapist will adapt the prescribed exercises.

Motion sensors for at home PT

While virtual PT can be beneficial for patients, there’s no comparison with a fully digital experience. That’s why adherence and outcomes are both better with digital physical therapy.

What are the top 5 benefits of digital physical therapy?

Digital physical therapy expands access to physical therapy without compromising patient care. Digital physical therapy is safe, maximizes convenience, increases adherence and completion, and allows you to receive physical therapy from anywhere: at home, or abroad. It allows your employees to recover from pain without taking days off of work. Digital physical therapy also:

  1. Encourages self-management
  2. Provides flexibility
  3. Saves time (no additional time spent commuting to physical therapy clinics)
  4. Provides a tailored patient experience
  5. Increases adherence to physical therapy exercises.

Digital physical therapy vs. traditional physical therapy

Sword Health compared its digital MSK physical therapy program to the gold standard of care: high-intensity, in-person physical therapy. Not only is Sword’s digital solution effective, it also has better outcomes compared to traditional MSK physical therapy. Participants in Sword’s program completed more sessions and the total cost of Sword’s program was $800 less than traditional physical therapy.

On average, Sword saves $2,472 per participant who completes Sword’s digital MSK physical therapy program. The Validation Institute reviewed Sword’s two-year claims-base study and found that study participants had $2,472 MSK-related medical claims compared to the control group undergoing traditional MSK care.

Validation Institute Level 1 Certification

About Sword Health

Sword Health provides the most personal, clinically-validated, and comprehensive digital MSK solution available today. Sword combines top-notch care from doctors of physical therapy and real-time biofeedback. Every Sword participant receives a personalized treatment plan tailored to their needs and goals.

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