Physiotherapy and digitalisation – these sound like two entirely different worlds. The term ‘physiotherapy’ represents treatment methods such as manual therapy, fascia training and equipment-based remedial gymnastics. Fewer people would associate this with electronic documentation systems, web applications and digital reporting, one might think, but that is no longer the case.
Digitalisation may soon be impacting practically every area of physiotherapy. Just how far digitalisation has already advanced can be seen in the large number of exhibitors at FIBO who are offering an extensive range of products and services for administration, management and documentation within the field of physiotherapy.
Digitalisation in the healthcare system
Digitalisation in the healthcare system is being pioneered by the government, health insurers, hospitals and medical technology. The efforts undertaken by health insurers in the field of digitalisation are being driven by the large expenditures that are necessary for communications, competitive pressure and the requirements of the German E-Health Act. Even today, for example, numerous health insurers offer simplified communication via email, scanning apps for sick notes, health apps and online training to combat stress.
Digitalisation of the healthcare sector was already a key component of the coalition agreement for the German government, which also included provisions governing the electronic patient files that are to be made available for all patients by the end of 2021. To ensure that patients’ case data is both up-to-date and available at all times and regardless of location for the healthcare sector in future, experts from hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, medical practices and pharmacies have been delving into complex issues of data portability, interoperability and data security. While plans call for the eventual integration of care facilities into the digital information network, physiotherapists and other non-academic care professionals will not initially be given any links to the patent data.
Digitalisation is continuing to expand within the field of physiotherapy
Already in 2015, the University of Health Sciences in Bochum was collaborating with invoicing and software specialists OptaData to create an app and web application that would intuitively guide therapists through the physiotherapy process with the help of an electronic assistant. Another objective involves promoting the transfer of scientifically proven treatment and examination methods into therapy. The university is also implementing a digital project in which digital elements are integrated into training to render this more interactive and more efficient.
Even today, physiotherapy practices have numerous digital products at their disposal that have been designed to simplify their everyday work. Invoicing companies offer software solutions for simplified invoicing that often include checks for Medical Therapy Guidelines, assessments of prescriptions and reporting. In some cases, the invoicing firms also have products for rehabilitation sports whose core element is a digital signature. Software providers offer digital appointment calendars, administrative programmes, training plans and even digital diagnostics that can be fed into digital therapy reports.
The general spread of digitalisation is also evident in internet portals such as Jameda and in physiotherapy trade journals whose content is now available in apps as well. The field of medical technology offers therapy and training equipment with interfaces that make it possible to evaluate and document training data.
According to Holger Lerch, Managing Director of azh myYOLO Deutschland GmbH, there is no longer any question of whether providers of remedies or rehabilitation sports need to act on digitalisation: “I believe that action is essential, and that one should get on board with digitalisation as quickly as possible. The opening of the market caused by digital prescriptions and political pressure for their rapid implementation not only represents a huge challenge for all of us – it also presents the entire therapy and auxiliary equipment provider market with a tremendous opportunity.”
Challenge posed by digitalisation
According to a survey conducted by the University of Health Sciences in Bochum, physiotherapists believe that the greatest barrier to the introduction of digital media lies in the resulting costs. Other barriers included the time required for implementation, a lack of IT skills and data protection issues. Respondents saw positive effects primarily in potential time savings, the standardisation of therapy processes and interprofessional communication, and in simplified documentation.
This makes it clear that digitalisation’s advantages are far from hidden. Concerns regarding the costs and time entailed are particularly acute for smaller physiotherapy practices, which make up the majority.
Assessing and selecting from the wide range of products available on the market poses a challenge for every operation. It is possible to obtain an overview at FIBO, as this is where many of the invoicing companies, software firms and the developers of apps and web-based applications with digital products for simplifying processes and increasing efficiency come to advertise their products and services.
Opportunities offered by digitalisation
The inevitability of digitalisation in physiotherapy is clear to anyone who understands this phenomenon. There is no question that digitalisation offers physiotherapy professionals a number of advantages regarding the time available for therapy and consultation. Even so, it is also important that operators understand which products are right for their requirements, and how the market will develop in future. The Managing Director of CNS Health, Harald Finger, advises healthcare centres and rehabilitation clinics on these issues. As he explains: “There are currently a large number of software solutions available for every task. It would be a huge advantage for therapy, fitness, rehabilitation sports and preventive courses, as well as the self-payer and member areas, if organisation and invoicing could be dealt with using web-based software. Standardised processes would make it possible to do a better job of reducing costs and saving time.”
In addition to the time and cost savings, therapy reports offer yet another argument in favour of digital solutions: the standardisation of interprofessional communication results in a higher quality of dialogue between physicians and physiotherapists. Another positive effect lies in the automatic generation of graphics that visualise the success of treatment.
Along with the shortage of skilled personnel, rates for prescription services that are far too low, and the introduction of self-payer services, physiotherapy now also has to deal with the creation of digital structures.