Telehealth has become more and more popular, and the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for these services even further. Twenty percent of Canadians wait more than seven days to see their treating physician. Immediate access through telehealth solutions can significantly impact the wait time and provide on-demand support to individuals who are ill or injured.
70% of Canadians believe virtual care represents the future, according to a study conducted in the fall of 2020. While virtual and digital solutions for mental health have consistently increased in popularity, particularly since COVID-19, the availability of digital/virtual physical therapy is just starting to rise. Can the model and success of digital/virtual mental health therapy be applied to physical therapy?
Differentiating “Virtual” and “Digital” Treatment
Although we live in an online world, the terms “digital” and “virtual” are often confused with one another.
Virtual treatment involves live interactions between the patient and the treating practitioner. It is broader than digital treatment and can involve phone discussions, video calls, online chats, and other forms of communication, all in real time.
Digital treatment is an online treatment program that is monitored by a treating practitioner, but not always as live sessions. The treating practitioner will assign a patient homework, readings, and exercises to help them with their recovery. The patient can discuss with the treating practitioner when necessary through chat but is able to complete most of the program on their own time.
The Benefits of Digital Treatment
Specialized digital mental health programs have proven to be as beneficial as in-person treatment for many patients. Unlike in-person treatment, digital treatment provides patients with the flexibility to complete their treatment from anywhere, at any time, as needed, increasing the number of patients who can use and complete the programs. The flexibility in the program allows patients to save time and transportation costs, as well as decreasing missed time from work due to appointments. In addition, digital treatment providers can report on recovery metrics across different populations and measure cost savings from their treatment programs.
Digital Physical Therapy: Where Are We?
A few newcomers to the physical therapy playing field have begun to establish and test better options for offering physical therapy without the practitioner being physically present. Some technology-based firms have started to develop ways to track a patient’s movements and range of motion as they work through exercises or stretches. Using this motion tracking technology, the treating practitioner is able to monitor and assess a patient’s abilities and limitations and make changes to their treatment plan to help them progress with their recovery. As long as patients have an internet connection, they can complete their assigned exercises at any time. Patients are able to chat with their treating practitioner when needed, but complete their exercises at their own convenience, making physical therapy more accessible for everybody. This model is very similar to digital mental health treatment where the patient completes various online assessments through the course of program, such as questionnaires, to monitor their progress.
While in Canada the availability of physical digital treatment remains quite limited, providers in the United States are already offering various competitive solutions for digital physical treatment, with many major private health insurers fully reimbursing these services. Canadian insurance companies have started to create various affiliations for telehealth solutions for digital/virtual mental health treatment providers, but digital physical therapy remains too new to assess how Canadian insurers will respond to these services and if they will eventually be covered under benefits plans.
Digital Treatment…. The Future of Healthcare
Digital treatment is not just beneficial for patients, it is also beneficial for employers who offer access to these programs to their employees. Digital treatment can be used from prevention to injury recovery, and everywhere in between, improving recovery timelines and potentially helping prevent further injury down the road. Employers are able to accurately monitor their return on investment through these programs, as well as see how their employees are recovering in comparison to typical recovery timelines for in-person treatment. With lower costs and the same outcomes as in-person treatment, more and more employers will start reaping the benefits of digital treatment programs for both mental health and physical therapy.
Digital treatment’s ability to provide increased flexibility, lower costs, and smaller time commitments meets the needs of today’s fast-paced environment. As technology continues to develop, it is evident that the options for digital physical therapy will only continue to evolve.
 Canadian Attitudes on Healthcare and Telemedicine Report
 Assessing the Effectiveness of Virtual Care for Adults with Mental Health and/or Addictions Issues
Information provided on this blog is intended for general educational use. It is not intended to provide medical advice. ReedGroup does not provide medical services. Consult a physician for medical advice on this or any other topic.