A back pain app outperforming physio?


APA Innovation Advisor Barry Nguyen weighs in on a randomised controlled trial that looked at app-based multidisciplinary back pain treatment versus physiotherapy with online education.

With an increasing number of freely available articles on the internet, physiotherapists should start to take serious note of the longer term implications of how emerging digital health solutions may impact their practices, not to mention their patients.

Take the recently published ‘App-based multidisciplinary back pain treatment versus combined physiotherapy plus online education: a randomized controlled trial’.

Without going into the details of the limitations of this study, it recently demonstrated that patients using the Kaia app reported significantly less pain than the control group, which undertook weekly physiotherapy and online education. Both groups were encouraged to incorporate an active lifestyle and perform a home exercise program.

The Kaia app comprises three therapy modules: back pain education, hands-off physiotherapy, and mindfulness and relaxation techniques. Users of the app also have the ability to interact with a human coach via the app if they have any particular questions.

This study adds to the emerging body of evidence that supports a multimodal approach to chronic pain management. Traditionally, multimodal treatment approaches to chronic pain management are often costly and limited to a small number of specialised medical facilities and an appropriate clinical team.

The results of this study indicate that emerging digital health technologies have the potential to offer viable alternatives to traditional models of care, providing better accessibility, affordability and in many cases, more effective treatment solutions for specific populations.

There are several key implications for physiotherapists:

  • rather than focusing on learning solely from traditional academic journals, physiotherapists should start broadening their horizons and look into digital medicine publications relevant to their practice
  • physiotherapists need to start embracing emerging digital health technologies and work with them, rather than against them, in order to optimise patient outcomes and experiences and to enhance value
  • with an evidence-based approach and leveraging clinical experience, physiotherapists should carefully consider incorporating existing digital health solutions to complement their practice, for example, education, meditation or home exercise apps, or something relevant to their clinical practice.

Email barry.nguyen@australian.physio with any comments or queries regarding this article.


© Copyright 2018 by Australian Physiotherapy Association. All rights reserved.