Healthcare News & Insights

Study: Virtual physical therapy improves outcomes, reduces costs

When patients have surgery, many need to see a physical therapist as part of their recovery. But making time to see another provider and paying for additional treatment is low on patients’ to-do lists, and some will avoid following postsurgical instructions – which can cause problems later on. 

But a new study from Duke Clinical Research Institute reveals a way to make the postsurgical physical therapy process easier on patients and cheaper for providers while still ensuring patients receive the care they need.

Virtual therapist

The study, performed with virtual rehabilitation therapy company Reflexion Health, found that using a virtual physical therapist can save almost $3,000 per patient without sacrificing patient safety or quality of care.

The virtual therapist guided patients who had recently undergone knee replacement surgeries through exercises prescribed by a physical therapist and monitored their performance during each exercise.

In the study, the physical therapist followed patient progress and checked in weekly. The monitoring allowed physical therapists to see exactly how each exercise was going and adjust as necessary, without having to physically be in the room with the patient.

As a result, patients still felt they were receiving personalized, focused care, while providers had time to complete other necessary tasks.

“In this particular program, the therapists were able to monitor every component of what they prescribed, and that’s a big difference from usual care,” the study’s lead author, Janet Bettger, Ph.D., told Fierce Healthcare.

Patient experience

Patients also enjoyed the convenience of VERA (for Virtual Exercise Rehabilitation Assistant), requesting to use it again if they had additional surgeries.

There was little difference in pain management between the group that used VERA and the one that used traditional in-person physical therapy. This could be an opportunity to cut down on pain medications after surgery, which is a positive considering the national opioid crisis.

Since healthcare prices are continuing to increase, and patients are looking for convenience and cost-savings in their health care, offering the option of virtual care could keep patients coming back to your hospital.

It frees up time for your providers, helping prevent physician burnout, while also having the potential to decrease readmissions after surgery, improve your hospital’s reputation and reduce your facility’s costs in the long run.

Although implementing virtual technology such as VERA can be expensive at first, the money saved on treatment per patient and reduced spending on readmissions for patients with postsurgical complications would likely make the up front payout worth it.

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