The position of digital bodily remedy in modernizing MSK therapy

Musculoskeletal pain comprises diverse conditions impacting bones, joints, muscles and connective tissues. Injuries, such as fractures from falls, may cause sudden, severe pain and are prevalent within older populations. Common conditions include tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis or any pain that impacts bones, joints, ligaments, tendons or muscles.

MSK conditions are a leading cost driver of global health care spending. With an aging population, there is a growing need for physical therapy (PT) services; however, the common ways we provide PT in treating musculoskeletal (MSK) conditions are out of step with an American public that increasingly wants access to virtual care.

In fact, one survey showed that 47% of adults said they would rather use telehealth services moving forward, and that number jumps to 55% for those who have used telehealth in the past. Further, a study of Medicare beneficiaries with new-onset lower back pain found that there was a lower risk of subsequent medical service usage among patients who received PT early compared to those who received PT at later times.

Digital PT services, long offered in Europe but are new in the U.S., offer American patients a new way to access PT and have given U.S. health plans a way to reduce costs compared to conventional PT. Research demonstrates that digital PT offers similar or better health outcomes than traditional PT.

One study analyzed the effects of two different home-based programs after total knee arthroplasty. At the end of the eight-week program, participants in the digital intervention group experienced a 10.47-second improvement in the “Timed Up and Go” test six months after surgery, while the traditional PT group experienced a median change of only 5.08 seconds. Another study demonstrated the success of digital PT in treating shoulder pain. Patients who completed the digital intervention experienced a 54.8% reduction in reported pain levels.

Digital PT also advances health equity. One study reported that disadvantaged populations, such as people with lower levels of education, lower income or located in rural areas, utilize PT less than non-disadvantaged populations. Another study analyzed clinic records and national census databases to explore the impact of offering no-cost van rides to patients attending outpatient PT appointments. The authors found that the availability of no-cost van transportation was associated with increased visit attendance for patients at an outpatient PT clinic. While transportation assistance is an option to reduce disparities, virtual PT is a more straightforward option to resolve this disparity.

Digital PT services are actively addressing the coverage gaps within the traditional PT market. Innovations, such as digital PT, offer quality services that offer similar, if not better, health outcomes while lowering costs, increasing patient satisfaction and addressing social determinants of health (SDOH).

Photo: Liubomyr Vorona, Getty Images

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