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Embracing Physical Therapy AI and Machine Learning

Updated: Jun 27

If you’re a physical therapist or PT owner reading this and thinking, "Should I be fearful of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) technology impacting my profession and replacing humans?", you will learn in the next three minutes how it’s not just science fiction anymore. Years of deep learning technology has come to fruition and can help impact the patient experience, clinical outcomes and therapeutic success within the physical therapy industry.  


Artificial Intelligence Robot

As movement specialists, physical therapists are educated and skilled in the physiological human musculoskeletal system. Our professional organization (the APTA) offers ten specialty areas within physical therapy including Cardiovascular, Women’s Health, Neurology and Pediatrics to name a few.  After years of training, PTs can significantly impact the quality of life for a large majority of the population’s chronic health challenges currently faced ("Embedding Population Health in Physical Therapist Professional Education").



The Proliferation of Apps and other Digital Platforms


For over a decade, online apps have been assisting therapists to record objective measures; functional outcomes; assign, update and track home exercise programs; and even help with language and cognitive barriers.


Along came virtual or digital platforms and, quickly, the APTA reacted with a strategic position to help blend and integrate the key players involved with the statement that “technology alone cannot be called physical therapy” and that the “APTA promotes the education and training of physical therapists and physical therapist assistants in the utilization of digital technologies to improve patient access to physical therapy” (The Digitally Enabled Physical Therapist: An APTA Foundational Paper). Digital health providers (without mentioning anyone directly) were “encouraged” to commit to consumer transparency by agreeing that “Digital physical therapy services are only performed or directed by licensed physical therapists in accordance with all regulations and the APTA's Standards of Practice for Physical Therapy.”

 

So why are these small details important?

  1. The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy could never allow the profession to be replaced by digital PT services. The entire profession would collapse, and the financial interests of the PT educational system would quickly become obsolete. Why would anyone invest 3 years of time in graduate school and spend on average over $100,000 in tuition if the integrity of the profession was superseded by only digital solutions.   

  2. Each state (including the wonderful PT Compact privileges) would lose significant revenue from initial and renewal licensure fees.

  3. The ongoing continuing education industry would no longer be necessary if digital physical therapy services could just update their operating systems on a routine basis with information from resources such as with  https://www.physicaltherapy.com/ or https://www.medbridge.com/physical-therapy/.

  4. Almost 600,000 PTs would have an identity crisis and change careers (terrible image).


Embrace Physical Therapy AI and Machine Learning


The only meaningful path forward for physical therapists is by recognizing the threats and benefits of this technology and figuring out how to implement and maximize these new “tools” that have been made available to us. During COVID-19, our patients said loud and clear how wonderful telehealth worked. but cannot and should not replace the skillful manual therapy techniques that this profession possesses. Tools are enhanced and refined constantly just as continuing education courses change and update in order to reflect the best of the best in physical therapy. To prove this point, a quick decade has passed since electronic medical records were mandated (to be adopted by all healthcare providers by January 1st, 2014).  This didn’t occur overnight, as we were provided 5 years advance notice after the 2009 passing of the HITECH Act.


Rather than being afraid of what Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning or Digital Physical Therapy solutions can do, ask yourself how they can make your life easier with improved workflows, decreased operational costs, and enhanced clinical outcomes. In essence, embrace AI and machine learning in Physical Therapy. Remember, if you’re still writing daily notes by hand, the interoperability and functionality of your services are dramatically limited in the current healthcare environment. Why not leverage therapy-specific AI technology that can dramatically improve business:

  • Auditing tools like PredictionHealth can solve tremendous compliance pain-points.

  • A documentation assistant like Hippo Scribe or Sidekick can listen and create notes just like science fiction.

  • EMR’s and billing companies such as Prompt have excellent billing and coding AI functions to help reduce denials and preventable modifier errors.  


As costs come down, the rationale not to use these strategic advantages disappears.


Podcasts and Blogs on AI in Physical Therapy


Check out the following WebPT podcast and blog for more on using AI in your practice:        




Daniel Hirsch PT, DPT, CHA, OHCC, COCA is a physical therapist licensed in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York with over 15 years of risk management and compliance experience. He is CEO of Risk & Compliance Analytics LLC, a comprehensive compliance solution for outpatient therapy practices. He has experience in both Property & Casualty and Life & Health Insurance, has served as the Chief Compliance Officer for large multi-state Physical Therapy practices, is an educator on Therapy Ethics and the Profession, and has numerous compliance and ethics certifications.


You can find Daniel on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/daniel-hirsch-dpt/ 

 

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