“Digital physiotherapy” must play a “significant” role in the treatment of patients post-COVID-19, according to a major study.
The study, of 27,000 virtual physiotherapy patients, concludes that digital physiotherapy just as effective as and, in some cases more effective than, in-person treatment.
The Investigating the Effectiveness of Virtual Physiotherapy report by Ascenti – the UK’s biggest private physiotherapy group – captures data on patients’ openness to virtual treatment, pain improvements on a 10-point Numerical Rating Scale (NRS) and satisfaction with outcomes.
A spokesman for Ascenti said that although a “relatively new” practice, digital treatment delivers similar outcomes to in-person care at “all injury levels”.
He said that comparing virtual and in-person treatment, improvements in NRS scores were “almost identical” for patients with medium and minor level conditions, and outcomes were “very positive” for both, even in more severe cases.
The spokesman said that the most successful results were achieved when patients accessed integrated care, combining a mixture of digital and in-person treatment, suggesting that this approach could represent “the future for the industry”.
Key benefits identified around virtual treatment included the convenience of not having to leave the house or book time off work, and the ability of digital tools (videos, diaries, reports) to engage patients in their journey.
The study found that patients who accessed video demonstrations again after the session, achieved the best results overall.
Clinicians surveyed also felt that some patients were more motivated to learn during video appointments as they knew that manual therapy was not an option, and they described how the insight of seeing into a patient’s home helped with exercise prescriptions, too.
But the research does show that there are a number of disadvantages to digital physiotherapy, including missing “the power of therapeutic touch” for manual assessment and treatment, clinicians being unable to use their hands to correct movement and “reduced trust” in the process among some patients.
|Change in pain levels based on a 10-point Numerical Rating Scale|
|Type of intervention||Type of intervention||Type of intervention|
|Point in journey||Virtual||In-person||Integrated|
|Start NRS |
|End NRS (Discharge)||1.4||1.4||1.8|
|Average Improvement in NRS||3.1||3.4||3.6|
Adam Jarvis, Ascenti’s Chief Operating Officer and a qualified physiotherapist, who was involved in the research, said the study is “potentially the world’s largest study of virtual physiotherapy conducted so far”.
He added it: “It clearly demonstrates that patients who access digital support to help them with MSK injuries can achieve excellent results.
“Digital health services are in high demand right now due to the COVID-19 virus still being in circulation, but even when we eventually move past this, they will still have an important part to play in addressing more familiar barriers to treatment such as lack of time, family commitments and inability to travel.”
Jarvis said that perhaps the “central lesson” to be learned from this research is that physiotherapy treatment “must be built around the needs of the patient”.
He said: “To achieve this, healthcare providers must become adept at offering the right treatment at the right time, to the right patient and through the right clinician in order to achieve the highest levels of engagement and the best outcomes.”
The full report, which includes further commentary from clinicians and patients on the benefits and drawbacks of virtual treatment, is available here as a web article or a downloadable PDF.