There is no stopping the digitalisation trend. Our everyday life could hardly work without Smartphones, Tablets and Smartwatches. Digitalisation in healthcare, however, is developing slowly and there are only few areas making progress such as health Apps or robot-assisted surgery.
On a global scale, it is particularly developments in electronic administration that seem to be lagging behind. Piles of paper in both out-patient care and in-patient wards continue to be the order of the day and there is insufficient digital exchange of such health-related information as imaging, for example. This is still the case although the potential of digitalisation for electronic patient file exchange has been studied several times already.
In physiotherapy, for example, digitalisation accelerates processes and simplifies the documentation of diagnosis and treatment. For patients the potential of digitalisation lies in the transparency of access and the storage of data as well as the desirable involvement in their own therapy process. But there are also barriers: physiotherapists often say that there is no evidence-based benefit. Another barrier lies in the self-administration of the German health-care system since innovative approaches and new treatment methods require a lot more time to be incorporated and applied. The most far-reaching obstacle are missing incentives and a lack of interest in the current situation. The reasons for this reaction: health professionals often fear the transparency of their own diagnoses and treatment and are afraid that patients might win the upper hand in joint decision making and “abuse” the newly acquired knowledge about their health problems.
Some Apps and software systems are currently already used in physiotherapy to support therapists and patients in administration, electronic documentation or exercise control. They include applications for making appointments in the therapist’s surgery, for supporting patient management – also in the interest of marketing – and applications for therapists’ knowledge management that provide repeated anatomy and physiology lessons along with new research findings.
Furthermore, there are software solutions that assist diagnosis, documentation and evaluation. However, only part of these systems were subjected to practical trials and developed with a hands-on approach. On top of this, the fragmentation of the individual systems and the wide variety – as is the case with administration and training software – poses a problem for practical application.
The medium-term goal should be to promote a combination of these systems thereby promoting the development of an electronic health file that contains all the data to which all health professionals involved have access. Alternatively, a platform that links the various applications. This step was already tried with PC applications in the past but continues to prove a challenge.
Physical therapists themselves can make a key contribution to the implementation of digitalisation by getting involved in development processes and giving feedback after trying out new developments or software systems.
This contribution is based on: Weber F. et al. 2019. “Mehr Mut zur Digitalisierung – Potenziale und Herausforderungen für die Physiotherapie”. Z. f. Physiotherapeuten 71;9:72¬–7