Virtual Physical Therapy

New solutions to old problems

Virtual Physical Therapy is no longer a thing of the future. Some of the most common ailments sending people to their doctor are back pain and joint disorders. However, the demand for physical therapy in the United States is vastly outpacing the supply of therapists. There are may in need of physical therapy that live in rural areas without access to a therapist. In addition, other patients struggling with mobility may find it difficult to drive to appointments. With the advancement of technology, creative minds within the medical field are finding new solutions to these long-standing problems.

Therapy via Telemedicine

One solution that some physical therapists are providing is therapy via telemedicine. Through using a video platform like Skype, a therapist can virtually meet with a patient for an hour session. Physical therapist Lara Heimann started doing Skype sessions with clients about four years ago. Many of the clients she sees virtually live in remote areas. Consequently, travel time to visit them would increase cost of care.

Heimann says that when she finished physical therapy school more than 20 years ago, it was standard for caregivers to see one or two patients per hour. However, low reimbursement rates from insurance force many therapists to see a much higher volume of patients today. If a therapists decides to stick with a lower volume, they usually will not take insurance or will be an out of network provider. Consequently, therapists must then charge higher rates. Telehealth is a more affordable middle ground. Telehealth both provides savings for the patient and efficiency-based cost reduction for the therapist. “In a one-hour Skype session, giving someone my undivided attention, I can have so much more impact,” Heimann says.

Virtual Physical Therapy

On the high-tech end of the market, a product called VERA (Virtual Exercise Rehabilitation Assistant) stands out. VERA is an in-home interactive device that guides patients through exercises and records them in 3-D video as they move. An avatar provides instruction and feedback in real time. The platform also enables virtual visits with a physical therapist, who can also review videos of the patient doing the exercises. VERA is owned or leased by hospitals, medical practices, or clinics and is temporarily placed in patients’ homes. Consequently, it has a low monthly expense rather than a per-visit charge, as in traditional therapy.

Janet Prvu Bettger, an associate professor of orthopedic surgery at Duke University, led the first clinical trial to compare VERA with in-person physical therapy. Full results are forthcoming, but the initial findings show that in patients recovering from total knee-replacement surgery, VERA was just as effective as in-person therapy. Three months after surgery, patients in the VERA group met the same benchmarks of recovery as the traditional therapy group. These benchmarks include pain reduction and the ability to perform basic tasks such as climbing stairs. In fact, patients using VERA had fewer rehospitalizations than those undergoing traditional therapy. The study demonstrated an average cost savings of $2,745 per patient receiving virtual therapy. The findings have been submitted for publication in the Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery.

At RediMedi we’re excited to harness the power of technology for better healthcare. We also offer telemedicine to patients who are traveling or unable to come to the office. We believe that creativity motivated by care for patients can lead to better healthcare at a lower cost.

Article originally posted on Scientific American.