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A women with a prosthetic hand using virtual reality during physical therapy

It's a digital world. Most of us carry a digital device (our phones) everywhere we go. You may have already adopted digital technology in your everyday life (such as using a smartwatch to track activity or a phone app to shop for groceries).

The health care world also has adopted digital health technologies to aid in the delivery of care.

What Is Digital Health?

Digital health is a broad term. Simply put, it is the fusion of medical knowledge with technology in the health care field. In physical therapy, as in other health care professions, physical therapists and physical therapist assistants regularly use technology, or digital health solutions, to improve the delivery of physical therapy care.

Some examples of digital health solutions in physical therapy include the use of telehealth, mobile apps, wearable sensors, augmented intelligence, or virtual reality platforms. Physical therapists can use these solutions to evaluate and treat a variety of conditions. Digital health solutions also can enable the deliver of messaging and recorded video or images.

What Are the Benefits of Digital Health?

Improving access to care. Digital health technologies like telehealth can improve access to physical therapist services. They enable you to do a visit from your home or office. You can also access care at times that are more convenient for you or engage with your physical therapist between visits. It’s not only convenient, but it’s also a valuable option when travel to and from a clinic is difficult or not possible.

Enhancing the information available to your provider. Remote monitoring is a commonly used digital technology that enables your physical therapist to gather valuable health information without the need for in-person interaction. Using a mobile app or motion capture technology, your physical therapist can collect and receive specific health details as you perform your home-exercise or self-management program. The physical therapist then analyzes the information to determine if your plan of care needs to be modified or adjusted.

How Are Digital Health Solutions Being Used in Physical Therapy?

Physical therapists are successfully using digital health solutions to help people manage a variety of symptoms and conditions. Some of the most common include:

  • Musculoskeletal (muscle, bone, joint) injuries.
  • Chronic pain.
  • Arthritis.
  • Cognitive, neurological, and vestibular (inner ear or balance) disorders.
  • Pelvic floor dysfunction (such as incontinence and organ prolapse).

There are other applications and use cases as well. Talk to your physical therapist about when or if digital health solutions are right for you and your recovery.

What Are the Challenges to Using Digital Health Technologies?

While digital health technologies can help to improve care delivery, there can be challenges. Concerns can range from the strength and reliability of your internet connection and data security to how easy it is to use an app for remote monitoring.

In addition, certain digital health technology solutions may only be appropriate at certain times during your plan of care or may not be appropriate for all situations. Your physical therapist will discuss the specific technology with you and can answer any questions you have before you participate.

The American Physical Therapy Association supports the use of digital health technologies as a valuable resource for physical therapists and physical therapist assistants to expand their ability to meet the needs of patients when and where those needs arise. APTA recognizes that digital health technologies will not replace traditional in-clinic care and that they should coexist with traditional in-clinic treatment when appropriate with the health and experience of the consumer in mind.

Physical therapists are movement experts. They improve quality of life through hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed movement. You do not need a physician's referral* to see a physical therapist in the United States. Visit Find a PT to search for a physical therapist in your area. 

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*Your insurance policy, corporate policies, or state practice laws may still require a referral. Some states may limit the type or duration of treatment without a referral.

Additional Resources

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APTA Digital Health Foundational Paper. Published November 2022. Accessed February 13, 2024.

Seron P, Oliveros MJ, Gutierrez-Arias R, et al. Effectiveness of Telerehabilitation in Physical Therapy: A Rapid Overview. Phys Ther. 2021;101(6):pzab053. Article Summary on PubMed.

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