How technologies will potentially transform the profession


No industry or technology expert can accurately predict how emerging technologies will impact the future of physiotherapy within the next decade, but in this final of a three-part series, Barry Nguyen, APAM, shares his vision. 

Based on studying current innovation research, startups, and marketing offerings, it is possible to make an educated guess about the future of physiotherapy. It will likely be more consumer, data, and outcome driven, digitised, artificial intelligence (AI) assisted, and involve greater mainstream adoption of telehealth delivery models.

Physiotherapists will need to embrace a value-based healthcare approach in future—they will need to demonstrate to clients that they are delivering positive outcomes relative to cost.

The following is a personal interpretation of how technology will change the future of physiotherapy and should not be considered as fact, but more as a guide to stimulate a creative, innovative mindset, or at least be thought provoking. I will attempt to visualise what a patient and physiotherapy clinician journey will look like in 7–10 years, starting with a patient query.

The consumer (or patient) injures themselves and searches their symptoms online 

The first point of contact for the consumer will likely be a digital symptom-checking tool or an AI-enabled conversational chatbot. Suggestions from the use of such tools may result in the consumer doing further research on the possible conditions. There will likely be a rich source of credible and non-credible sources available online, from articles to videos, as well as as the ability to make a telehealth booking for consumers to quickly discuss their problem with a health practitioner.

The consumer will likely have a large range of healthcare services available to choose from, with transparency in regulated reviews, pricing and outcomes based on specific health conditions or specialties

Consumers will have easy access to customer service reviews, useful insights of clinical outcomes from practitioners for specific conditions as well as fairly reflected pricing.

There will likely be a choice between in-person, telehealth delivery approaches or a hybrid, based on consumers’ preferences, reporting symptoms and the potential health concern. Consumers will have access to an app or online booking system to make an appointment with the relevant practitioner.

Payments will likely be transparent, automated and digitised without consumers needing to bring their credit card or health insurance card to the appointment.

Prior to the physiotherapy consultation, consumers will be able to securely share health data with the practitioner, including from wearable devices measuring activity levels, stress, nutrition and sleep, and perhaps from the government’s My Health Record (depending on its evolution)

Personal health data will likely be processed by an AI-assisted clinical decision-making support tool used by the practitioner, which can help them make accurate and holistic clinical decisions about the client.

Physiotherapists will be likened to clinical data analysts who have digital literacy and basic training in AI and data science to support their clinical skills.

Data visualisation and clinical decision-making support tools will likely help the physiotherapist to diagnose, develop treatment plans and prescribe exercise programs (as is already happening).

The human elements of the physiotherapy service still remain critical and complement digital tools

In order to maintain the highest quality and safety of clinical services, physiotherapists will still be expected to possess exceptional soft skills, perform physical examinations where appropriate, develop rapport and empathy with the client and assist them to change their behaviour through forms of communication that cannot be replicated by a robot or technology.

Clinical notes will likely be recorded by advanced voice recognition systems, that will also prompt physiotherapists to look closer at specific queries that the physiotherapist may have missed or not been aware of based on data-driven analytics.

Self-management plans will likely be monitored remotely by digital technologies

Content and exercise prescription software, outcome measure tracking (patient-reported outcome and experience measures) and telehealth platforms (smartphone apps, video and messaging methods) will likely be commonly used by physiotherapists to monitor and follow up clients remotely, and potentially escalate to in-person consultations where necessary.

AI and data-driven technologies will likely assist physiotherapists in recommending the continual professional development courses they need to undertake to optimise health outcomes

Data analytics technologies will likely be able to provide specific and personalised recommendations to physiotherapists on the online CPD courses they will need to undertake to improve health outcomes for the communities they serve in a more effective and focused manner. 

Some questions requiring further contemplation when considering a data-driven physiotherapy future:

  • Who owns the data, how is it shared and the level of permissions?
  • What are the medicolegal and professional responsibilities of the physiotherapist when they have access to such personal health data?
  • Can the data be used to penalise or incentivise physiotherapists based on relative performance and benchmarks?
  • What human elements are in fact crucial in a physiotherapy service to optimise health outcomes and what should be automated? 

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