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Insights News Pulse – December 2, 2016

Our featured article for this week explores a new study examining the efficacy of a virtual physical therapy assistant.

Other topics include ways to improve patient engagement, increased vestibular thresholds, and more.

Improving patient engagement: Vice President of Client Success at Clinicient, Doug Schumann, penned a blog for The National Association of Rehabilitation Providers and Agencies on how to improve patient engagement as the Affordable Care Act works to link reimbursement to performance based on patient experience metrics. NARA: “Improving Patient Engagement and Results by Applying Coaching Best Practices” by Doug Schumann, November 22, 2016.

opioidsPT as entry point for pain: PT in Motion News follows the story of a 23-year-old woman who fractured multiple bones in her toe and ended up on painkillers. After this, she attended almost 4-5 physical therapy sessions a day, which greatly improved her condition and allowed her to wean off of the painkillers. PT in Motion News: “From Move Forward Radio: A Journey Out of Pain and Away From Painkillers, Thanks to Physical Therapy” by Staff, November 22, 2016.

Loss of balance over 40: A study by Massachusetts Eye and Ear shows the ability to receive sensory information about motion, balance, and spatial orientation (from increased vestibular thresholds) declines in people over 40. Physical therapy, however, can improve balance and vestibular function to prevent falls. Medical Xpress: “Vestibular function declines starting at age 40” by Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, November 28, 2016.therapist with patient

Access to opioids:Research shows Medicaid beneficiaries are prescribed opioids at twice the rate of the rest of the population, which prompted the CMS to issue strict prescribing guidelines last January. States have placed emphasis on limiting painkiller prescriptions, but some experts believe this could limit patient access for those with a legitimate need. Kaiser Health News: “Tighter Prescribing Rules: An Anti-Abuse Strategy That Could Hurt Patients In Pain” by Shefali Luthra, November 30, 2016.

Bundled payments expansion: UnitedHealth Group is expanding nationwide a new value-based way to pay doctors and hospitals for spinal surgeries and knee and hip replacements. The company is moving to bundled payments in more than 40 markets by the end of next year. Hospitals will be accountable for the quality and costs of care from the start of the surgery through outpatient rehabilitation. Forbes: “UnitedHealth Group To Expand Hip, Knee And Spine Bundled Payments” by Bruce Japsen, December 1, 2016.

big hospitalFeatured article on a study of a virtual PT assistant: MobiHealth News: “Duke study to evaluate use of virtual assistant in rehabilitation for total knee replacement” by Heather Mack, November 29, 2016.

Researchers at the Duke Clinical Research Institute are currently testing the use of a virtual physical therapy assistant, nicknamed “Vera”, for patients recovering from total knee replacement surgery. Specifically, the study will evaluate how well Vera guides users through their prescribed physical therapy exercises by using 3D monitors to measure and record each patient’s performance.

If Vera is successful, this study could mean major cost savings for physical therapy companies, which wouldn’t have to hire as many in-person assistants to guide patients through rehab routines. To assist patients, Vera records at-home sessions, then analyzes and presents data for the clinician to review. With this information at their disposal, PTs could spend more time developing treatment plans without taking as many hours to watch individuals exercise. Further, patients who need additional in-person services could be quickly identified and treated by supervising therapists.

Beyond its therapist uses, Vera’s developers cite the potential benefits for patients as well. Vera guides users through their prescribed physical therapy exercises and gives them feedback in real-time. Theoretically, this means patients wouldn’t have to schedule as many clinic visits if they can rely on a virtual assistance for guidance when completing their routines.

Total knee replacement is the most frequently performed procedure in the United States, so Vera’s success could have an enormous impact on the way we rehabilitate and monitor patients return-to-function in value-based care. Telemedicine is a rapidly growing sector of the healthcare industry, and technologies like Vera are absolutely essential as we strive to increase care access for PT patients, deliver better quality, and lower healthcare costs.

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