Need for Digitalization in the Physical Therapy Industry

Richard Roy Mendonce, General Manager - Head Digital Strategy, Yashoda Hospitals Headquartered in Hyderabad, Yashoda Hospitals is one of India’s leading super speciality hospital chains offering top-notch healthcare services diverse areas such as Cardiology, Neurosciences, Haematology & BMT, Physiotherapy, Critical Care, and Robotic Sciences.

The requirement of physiotherapy services across the world is on a constant rise, and the industry faces a huge gap in demand v/s supply. Added to this, issues like financial challenges, logistics, and access to the therapy centers, deprive the needy of adequate care. Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation services are of a high-involvement nature and care is delivered one-to-one and in-person, which poses a challenge for this industry to scale. There is a critical need for innovations that can make this industry more accessible to the consumers and facilitate in minimizing the gap between supply and demand.

Connected, Integrated & Smart
It is easy for us to jump to a conclusion, that technology or digitalization and solve this problem. Digitization or technology is merely a facilitator and not a solution in itself. It can work wonders only when it has the following capabilities:
• Connected– The technology should connect all stakeholders in the value chain to plan and deliver holistic care.
• Integrated – Seamless flow of data between various equipment, devices, and software applications to have unified view of information
• Smart – Should have domain intelligence to enhance the quality and accuracy of care delivery for all stakeholders

Avenues for Digitization in Physiotherapy & Rehabilitative Services
Digitization could be applicable across a wide range of situations focusing on different stages of the value chain and sequential connecting each stages to provide holistic therapy

• Discovery/Outreach – Digital can bridge the gap and connect the patients to the right provider or information. In the last 11 months, as per Google trends, the search interest for ‘Physiotherapist near me' in India has grown over 700 percent.

• Continuity of Care – Rehabilitation services often continue beyond the session at the hospital, Digital technology like telerehab, or telehealth will extend this care to the patient’s home allowing providers to guide and support their patients to recovery.

• Monitoring & Motivation – A combination of continuous monitoring using wearable, smart devices, and availability of the right information digitally, Therapists can set and monitor goals of each patient which also helps patients become more receptive to therapy and confident about the rehabilitation programs.

• Improve the Quality of Care – Wearable devices like smart body sensors, 3d cameras, and others, are a source of continuous and real-time data that will help caregivers optimize their treatment plans and review them on an ongoing basis. Artificial intelligence can help alert deviations and minimize treatment errors.
• Education – Patients are now are aware and increasingly dependent on digital sources of information, so providing them with the right and customized resources via digital platforms facilitate faster adoption of the care plans, add value to their recovery and improve outcomes.

Digital systems should be smart enough to continuously learn and update, which is possible only with a continuous feedback mechanism paired with smart machine learning algorithms

Technologies that are Changing the Physiotherapy & Rehabilitation Space
• Robotic Assistance: Using mechanical devices and exoskeletons to compensate for the patient's inadequate motor control and strength calibrated for each patient condition, The real-time assistance and feedback provides the patient with subjective sense of improvement.

• Social Therapy: This approach uses the social structure to improve the interpersonal functioning of people and their quality of life, thereby allowing users to share personal pictures, fitness challenges; allowing interaction with past, current or potential patients and between the professional fraternities.

• Empowered Patients: Patient is the most underutilized resource in the physiotherapy industry. To overcome this, a Madison, Wisconsin based tech startup came up with a solution that has an interactive library with a plethora of exercises for health care providers and patients. Providers identify and create tailor-made therapies and routines depending on the patient’s needs. The loop is completed using the patient’s smartphone or device with a visual and audio feedback, to the therapist about patient adherence and concerns.

• Virtual Reality-Based Therapy: An Israel based health tech company has created a rehabilitation platform in Virtual Reality using movies, VR games and 360° workouts to gamify physiotherapy to make it enjoyable and engaging. VR technology is used to monitor patients’ kinematics and provide real-time feedback and guidance.

• Artificial Intelligence-Based Remote Therapy: Another tech startup Based in San Diego has come up with an interactive physical therapy tool. Using motion tracking technology, an animated avatar guides patients through their exercises and coaches patients by counting repetitions, providing exercise information and delivering real-time feedback. The patient is motivated, and their clinicians have real-time data, thus enabling them to track compliance too.

Future Prospects of Digitization in Physiotherapy
Physiotherapy and rehabilitative services go beyond prescription for acute conditions. There are many chronic conditions that call for a long-term plan to help in both prevention and correction of these conditions. Some of them being:

• Continuous & Long-Term Care
o Back Posture Correction – Sensor that alerts the user as the back sloughs
o Gait Correction – Smart sensors in the insole of a shoe that monitors and alerts improper gait

• Real-Time Sports Training using body sensors to optimize performance, like 3D golf swing analysis, body sensors for athletes, etc.

• Advance Diagnosis - Use of sensors that can measure vital signs of the patient and can be interfaced with diagnostic equipment like MRI to make preemptive diagnosis a reality.

Challenges & Limitations Of Digitization
• Interoperability: Healthcare data is generated through a variety of devices and equipment. Unless there is an interface that facilitates a smooth interchange of information between devices, network, and software, the true potential of digitization can’t be harnessed.

• Clinical Validation: The most potential judges to certify the usability of technology is clinical stakeholders. Ensuring data accuracy and reliability is the only way to win their confidence.

• Feedback Loops: Digital systems should be smart enough to continuously learn and update, which is possible only with a continuous feedback mechanism paired with smart machine learning algorithms.

While digitization holds the key to unlock many of the healthcare constraints, more so in the field of Physiotherapy and Rehabilitation, technology can evolve only as far as the human mind can think; as it is just an enabler. The true potential can only be harnessed by overcoming challenges and improvising continuously.