Quo vadis, digitalization in rehabilitation and physiotherapy?
Quo vadis, digitalization in rehabilitation and physiotherapy?
Usability, autonomy, modernity – that's what digital components should add to rehabilitation and physiotherapy. This benefits both patients and professionals according to manufacturers of new technologies and software. Conversations with experts about the current situation and the future reveal how the industry is dynamic and ever evolving.
Skilled professionals help patients learn about new technologies and facilitate a smooth transition into independent training.
First things first: the latest achievements don’t mean the complete abandonment of tried-and-true paths as the idea is to combine the best of both worlds. The proven knowledge of traditional therapy methods always serves as the foundation. Fabian Fröhlich, Managing Director of Roceso Medical, a manufacturer of digital rehabilitation solutions, agrees with this assessment. He believes it is important that the use of technology doesn’t distort the meaningfulness of interactions between therapist and patient and to keep this process direct and organic.
To do this, digital solutions can be explored together and integrated into the recovery process in a game-like manner. This increases motivation, which is also fostered by the immediate feedback from the quick data analyses. Fröhlich points out that this delivers insights into a person’s present capabilities and future therapy trajectory.
Even older adults – many of whom might not be part of the inherent target audience of digital trends – benefit from these innovations and quickly find their way around the intuitive user interfaces. Take DigiCare, for example: "DigiCare is a custom and cost-effective digital screening and exercise program that is used in elderly care," explains Lars Jessen, Deputy Managing Director of the product’s manufacturer DigiRehab. The program can track physical performance and subsequently create a customized training program for the respective patient. Every four weeks, there is a new screening, progress is measured, and the training program is adjusted based on the new information. This ensures continued progress.
This is what a training plan at DigiCare might look like. In addition to a description of the exercises, there are instruction videos and further information on execution.
Jessen adds: "We are improving the mobility of the seniors, which results in an improved quality of life and more autonomy for this age group. Thus, we are moving away from the classic notion of assistive technology and towards empowerment and mobilization of patients.” Digitalization not only helps update tried-and-tested approaches but can also establish completely new procedures.
Caregivers likewise benefit from digitalization
The fact that digitalization is increasingly finding its way into recovery-oriented processes in hospitals and at home is more than a futuristic gimmick. Indeed, it delivers a solution to one of the biggest challenges facing the healthcare industry today: healthcare staffing shortages. Digital support offers many ways to provide relief to staff at work.
Fabian Fröhlich points out how digitalization helps distribute time and attention effectively as important resources: "Our EsoGLOVE Pro is a soft robotic exoskeleton for hand rehabilitation. The device facilitates up to 300 hand movements per hour. This provides valuable support for the therapist as he or she can focus on other challenges during this time. Our systems make it possible to treat more patients with fewer caregivers.”
Helpers such as the EsoGLOVE Pro from Roceso Medical can relieve caregivers of both time and physical strain.
While this increases efficiency in healthcare facilities and makes therapists more productive, it also frees up time to devote to personal face-to-face care. Fröhlich adds that the central idea during the product development phase is to ensure that experts likewise enjoy the new technology and are not put off by it. If the therapists are excited about the methods, it makes their job easier as well.
Digital applications also bring relief on a pragmatic and bureaucratic level. Lars Jessen points to “process optimization and interdisciplinary work" as well as "avoidance of duplicate work". Whether it relates to communication between therapists and doctors from different fields or within the same healthcare facility: the digital applications record all data, processes, and progress during the training, which means this information doesn’t have to be entered manually during or after the exercise. This makes collaboration and teamwork easier and avoids unnecessary extra work.
What does the future hold?
Many experts in the field are ambivalent about the future of digitalization in rehabilitation and physiotherapy. More and more exciting innovations are hitting the rehabilitation market and it will be near impossible to imagine life without them, according to Michael Frank, CCO of Articares, a provider of digital solutions for arm rehabilitation. "Digital care pathways will see a rapid rise in the coming years and will be an integral part of every phase of the rehabilitation treatment chain (inpatient, outpatient and at-home)." Fabian Fröhlich agrees: "I'm certain that digitalization in rehabilitation will make it possible to also treat patients from their home in the future.” He points to the increasing number of smartphone apps that are approved as medical devices, which makes them usable from any location.
More and more smartphone apps are officially approved as medical devices and enable mobile training.
Lars Jessen is also optimistic about the future but criticizes slow processes and the fact that important aspects are not being addressed with the necessary urgency. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit us, the financial and legal frameworks were quickly adapted to the situation, while digital solutions such as online video consultations became an efficient option. But by now, this progress is largely being reserved versus being expanded. "We missed a great opportunity for digitalization," Jessen sums up his concerns.
Dorota Matczak, founder of PhiLabs – a provider of digital physiotherapy applications for children – agrees. She maintains that progress in digital rehabilitation and solutions for physiotherapy are not happening fast enough – and points to a lack of courage to step into the unknown: "A spirit of traditionalism hovers over our industry. We must be bolder in our efforts to evolve. There is nothing to fear, while the benefits are endless. I want to encourage others in our industry to step out of their comfort zone. There is a fascinating world of innovative therapies just waiting to be discovered!"
And so, we simply must wait and see how digital physiotherapy and rehabilitation solutions will evolve over the next few years. But one thing is certain: while the field is still in its early stages, courageous pioneers are already off to the races and will continue to revolutionize and make it accessible to an increasing number of people with different needs.
Nastassja Lotz (translated by Elena O'Meara) REHACARE.com