Telerehab, an integration of technology and physical therapy, can accelerate a person’s return to work for modified duty by as much as 10 weeks when paired with clinic-based physical therapy, according to a study presented at the American Physical Therapy Association/Combined Sections Meeting (APTA/CSM) conference.
The study focused on workers who were recovering from rotator cuff repairs and then compared outcomes from those who were prescribed traditional PT with those who had both PT and telerehab. Telerehab simply consisted of PT sessions that were delivered via a smartphone.
“In general, patients covered under workers’ comp typically have poorer outcomes than those covered by private insurers,” said Sean Kinsman, DPT, head of clinical services at Trainer Rx, a telerehab platform in the U.S. “The most common cause of delays are medical authorization approvals. When treatment is delayed—especially after a surgical repair—patients often experience a permanent reduction in their physical ability with greater stiffness and pain, increasing their risk for re-operations.”
The study was run by Lesley Anderson, MD, an orthopedic surgeon in California, and supported by Trainer Rx. Overall, Anderson wanted to determine whether integrating telerehab into PT programs could improve patient outcomes.
Dr. Anderson and her team found that patients who were part of the telerehab program returned to modified duty 10 weeks earlier than their counterparts. Additionally, patients ready for full-time work returned to work seven weeks earlier.
The results indicate that those who had telerehab in their sessions regained range of motion and strength faster, and when it came to pain relief, those who accessed customized PT sessions online experienced a 46 percent decrease in pain.
Another result that surprised Kinsman was how engaged patients were while using telerehab.
“Despite delays in medical authorization, these patients continued to access their telerehab platform independently,” Kinsman said. “They appear more motivated to improve their personal health outcomes when given the autonomy of an online program.”
The researchers involved in this study hope telerehab can further impact PT sessions in the future and cut costs exponentially.
“Identifying non-medication options is key to decreasing costs for companies offering workers comp programs,” noted Mike Oberlander, MD, founder and medical director for Trainer Rx. “The cost of standard PT sessions often rises to as much as $4,000 per employee, while telerehab platforms such as Trainer Rx, can cost less than $150 for the full episode of care. As companies look for new avenues to help injured employees return to work sooner, more will include digital health tools into workers comp programs,” he said.