Digital MSK – Physical Therapy’s New Route for Optimal Care Delivery 

Updated on December 26, 2023
Physical Therapy Devices To Add to Your Clinic

The healthcare industry continues to experience challenges driven by concerns such as changing patient expectations, consumerism, and reimbursement changes. With these challenges also come opportunities for providers to embrace digital health tools that can advance their practice and improve care delivery models. 

An emerging area of opportunity to move care forward with digital tools is physical therapy. The effective adoption of digital tools at the clinical level could have a positive and lasting impact on the healthcare industry at large. Consider that while one-half of all American adults suffer from musculoskeletal (MSK) pain or injury, only 10% to 20% seek physical therapy as their solution despite it being one of the most effective avenues for the treatment and prevention of ailments – this leaves significant opportunity for the expansion of care through the use of digital tools. 

Like other industries that have embraced digital transformation and adopted technological tools to improve service, the physical therapy space now has an opportunity with digital MSK care. This has become top-of-mind for providers, and according to a recently published Forrester Opportunity Snapshot, 75% of EHR decision-makers ranked implementing new data and analytics solutions among the highest priorities to accelerate business growth and improve patient outcomes. To bring rehab and physical therapy providers up to speed, detailed onboarding with digital MSK tools will be essential to make sure employees are well-equipped and compliant when providing care.  

Digital MSK adoption will provide a new level of convenience and comfort in the physical therapy space by integrating technology to track and manage a patient’s care journey.  Some of the tools used include smartphones, tablets, apps, wearable technologies, and many other software solutions that can contribute to the betterment of rehab and physical therapy patient outcomes. The goal of digital MSK technologies and solutions is to build a more robust, inclusive, and accessible bridge between patients and the rehab therapy professionals who can best treat them. Once these tools and resources are established within a practice, they can enhance engagement, secure better patient compliance and outcomes, and provide a more optimal patient experience. Digital MSK can also result in increased market share and overall revenue potential for a rehab clinic or operation.

As current challenges in physical therapy continue to emerge and shift, provider organizations must do their best to meet the needs of today’s patient population by evolving their care delivery models.  

Challenges with adoption

Currently, providers in the physical therapy space are experiencing an overarching fear of being left behind due to the advancement of digital health resources. Education and adoption by therapists requires them to adapt from healing with their hands to treating patients virtually, in addition to losing prior investments in staff or in-person tools and taking on the cost of new digital ones. There is also lingering uncertainty surrounding the adoption of virtual therapy in relation to areas such as reimbursement, compliance, and clinical outcomes. However, if these tools are not embraced, private practices may experience a loss in their market share due to high-tech competitors being better equipped with digital resources to treat patients. This digital transformation puts additional pressure on the physical therapy and rehab space on top of existing labor shortages from changing care models. 

A lack of digital literacy is also a major concern among practitioners, with outdated EMR and provider data methods still being heavily utilized in the rehab space, especially within private practices. In the aforementioned Forrester Study, 46% of respondents reported that the biggest challenge their organization faces in upgrading its EHR platform is a lack of internal skills and resources. The adoption of digital MSK may follow this trend, making proper adoption and education mission-critical for the implementation of new digital tools to be a success. 

Key benefits 

Despite these challenges, there are major benefits to digital MSK adoption. With digital MSK solutions, patients can receive care from wherever they choose, pending online access, allowing for more convenient visits and care. Furthermore, digital MSK care integrates digital and in-person data to both inform and support patient progress and outcomes. With enhanced accessibility, stronger patient engagement, improved chances of patient compliance to treatment plans, and greater patient empowerment, digital MSK integration has the opportunity to make a significant difference in the lives of patients who otherwise would not be as engaged in their health journeys.  

Patients remain the top priority when advancing care models, but digital MSK solutions also can greatly improve the provider and operational experience for clinics.  By expanding the ability of a clinic to provide care and do so more efficiently, digital MSK helps reach the untapped market of people suffering from MSK pain. Since patients’ self-discharges and missed appointments result in revenue leakages and wasted time for providers, digital MSK can help eliminate those burdens by making appointments more accessible by not requiring an office visit. Along with time management burdens, labor shortages continue to plague healthcare providers and their ability to care for high patient volumes, so virtual visits with digital MSK enable quicker interactions and create more room in providers’ schedules. With digital MSK tools, providers will be able to propel their clinics into the future and be guided through the integration of digital and in-person care, allowing them to deliver better care, expand their reach, and revamp operations. 

Digital MSK may especially benefit providers as we move into a world focused on value-based care. Rehab therapists feel increasing pressure to deliver better outcomes in order to be fairly compensated, and this pressure heightens with an additional push to utilize digital health tools. As payers, such as Medicare, continue to transition toward value-based reimbursement models, clinicians are finding the use of digital tools that enhance engagement to help patients achieve better outcomes even more crucial. 

With so many factors determining how care is paid for, provided, and received, digital MSK adoption will bridge the gap between many of the frustrations patients and providers experience throughout their healthcare system interactions. Digital MSK care creates a more robust, inclusive, and accessible relationship between patients and the rehab therapy professionals who can best help them. Looking ahead, providers must make an effort to adapt their practices and integrate technology to meet the needs of an evolving patient population. Implementing these technology changes will ultimately help providers deliver care that is best suited for the patient and more efficient for their businesses.  

Tannus Quatre
Tannus Quatre
SVP & Chief Business Development Officer of Therapy at Net Health

Tannus Quatre is SVP & Chief Business Development Officer of Therapy for Net Health.