Physical Therapy for Veterans: Improving Care by Innovation
Today is Veterans Day, the one day, we stand united in our respect for US veterans and thank them for the sacrifices made in the protection of freedom and our lives.
As we recognize the importance of this day for veterans, in this article I would like to highlight the unique medical conditions that affect veterans and how innovation in physical therapy for veterans can offer new hope to provide even better care.
What are the most common medical problems for veterans?
Military service is gruelling and can take a heavy toll on a veteran’s body. The price can be extremely high, with life-altering consequences.
The most common physical therapy problems faced by veterans include effect on mobility from shrapnel and gunshot wounds, lost limbs, head and brain injuries, sprains and strains and limited range of motion, especially in ankles and knees.
Veterans also experience higher prevalence of pain and more severe pain than nonveterans. While women, now making up to 16% of enlisted members of the US military, pose new challenges with highly specific medical conditions among veterans.
Physician therapy for veterans: Care provision
In 1989, the VA (US Department of Veteran’s Affairs) was formed “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan”. Today the VA’s Veterans Health Administration is the largest integrated health care network in the United States, with 1,255 health care facilities serving 9 million enrolled Veterans, men and women, each year.
Currently serving and former members of the U.S. armed services are offered health care through an extensive system of specialized physical therapists (PTs). PTs work with veterans to understand their injuries and provide tailored care to support earlier recovery.
PT care can range from support in aiding surgical recovery, improving mobility, relieving pain, increasing strength, and improving or correcting disabling conditions resulting from disease or injury.
The care provided by PTs is essential in helping veterans recover and gain back their independence.
Harnessing innovation to improve physical therapy of veterans
In the last few decades innovation in healthcare has been driving huge transformations in the way we deliver and provide care for improved patient outcomes and experiences. From robotics to artificial intelligence (AI) to better data systems and information exchange, technology innovation is providing clinicians with new tools for better diagnosis, treatment and prevention. In the field of physical therapy for veterans, technology innovation has a role to play in two key ways. Firstly, we can use technology to draw on clinical evidence and real-world data for better assessment, diagnosis and treatment delivery to enhance PT therapy. For example, AI, and computer vision, can help us better assess with high accuracy (beyond a trained eye) what is a patient’s current musculoskeletal status – their range of motion, tremor, and efficiency. Secondly, we can now use big data and data analysis tools to provide rapid clinical insights to inform treatment decisions personalized to veteran’s specific needs as well as even predict diagnosis. These sophisticated tools can be integrated within face-to-face therapy sessions or completely virtual, where PT’s remotely provide care assessment, diagnosis and treatment. The possibilities for care are endless and we are just getting started! So let’s look at some of the main care challenges facing veterans, and see how technology is and can be used to further advance care and meet their needs.
Overcoming accessibility issues
Some of the biggest challenges for veterans is gaining access to care. Veterans may live far away from the closest VA medical center, or the cost of gas and time navigating traffic may impact whether they turn up for an in-person visit. For older veterans, frailty, cognitive impairment, and mobility limitations, further increase the likelihood of a “no-show” visit. Veterans also face long waiting times for care, a recent article highlighted veterans waited an average of 29.0 days for a primary care appointment in VHA facilities. Today telehealth provides veterans with easier access to care when and where they need it. Clinical research is showing that older veterans report high satisfaction with telehealth. Recent research showed a dramatic 38% reduction in no-shows when in-person veteran visits were rapidly transitioned to virtual care.
This is also a core area of focus here at WizeCare. By adapting latest technology innovations and smartly packaging these tools for ease of use, affordability and accessibility, we have taken the capabilities of telehealth to a new level. For example, our easy-to-set-up patient app can be used with any personal device (iPhone, android, iPad, tablet, laptop), anywhere helping improve access to virtual care. We also designed the platform with no need for external sensors or devices. This means video treatment sessions using our AI-driven MoveAI™ technology can be set up in seconds using any standard devices camera! Our technology can then accurately detect movement and provide automated real-time patient feedback for improved remote care. For PTs and VA clinics, patient care and compliance are improved, while patient progress can be monitored asynchronously enabling PTs to save time and improve clinic operational efficiency.
Personalizing veteran care
Veterans have a wide range of medical needs, which can make providing physical therapy for veterans challenging as one clinical approach and professional specialism does not fit all. For example, during veteran’s service, injuries can happen during combat, while others face chronic pain and physical stress to the body. This may cause permanent disability and long-term debilitating effects on quality of life. Yet, with the right physical therapy care, many veterans can fully recover. One of the challenges in delivering care for this diverse group of veterans is providing a rehabilitation platform that empowers and supports PTs to tailor care to the unique needs and wide range of veteran medical conditions.
Providing better tools to PTs to enable even better care is a key goal for the team here at WizeCare. This is why we ensured our physical rehabilitation platform is highly flexible, enabling tailored treatment protocols for a wide range of patients of all ages for acute and chronic disorders, including orthopedic, neurological and mobility disorders, as well as women’s health conditions.
With over 800 clinically validated exercise protocols and an easy drag and drop interface, we have also made it easy for PTs to quickly build and tailor the right physical therapy care plan for veterans. Combined with automated video assessment sessions and movement tracking correction, care plans can be highly personalized to each veteran saving time while delivering better care.
Today, we are seeing PTs harness our capabilities to support both face-to-face, virtual or hybrid models to advance care with over 1 million virtual sessions conducted.
Making therapy fun and engaging
For rehabilitation to work effectively, veterans not only need to believe that they will get better, but their PT experience must be fun and motivating. Improving patient engagement also offers multiple advantages for VA providers, from improved outcomes and lowered costs to improved operational efficiency. This is where I believe technology is critical. We live in a world where technology is now expected rather than seen as a novelty. It is therefore essential that the care we provide harnesses the latest in medical innovation.
For example, a simple telehealth video session between a PT provider and a veteran patient at home through critical to care, often will not address the fun and motivating element. We at WizeCare, really set out at to make virtual physical therapy sessions enjoyable and motivating to ensure patients keep going, even when therapy gets hard. For example, our MoveAI™ technology enables asynchronous automated real-time tracking and performance feedback with patients getting awards – even a crown – when they do a movement correctly. And we are seeing the results of this approach – not only do patients love it but we are achieving over 70% adherence to care plans.
The future of physical therapy for veterans
In this article I have touched on what I see as some of the core ways innovation in physical therapy can help address some of the most urgent barriers to advance veteran care. When we consider the wider physical therapy rehab space, including innovations in medical devices, prosthetics, surgical robotics to advanced decision support systems, and AI-driven solutions, the potential to transform physical therapy care for veterans is only getting started.
Yet, there are of course many other challenges facing veterans. And we must remember that care for veterans does not end when the patient leaves the hospital or returns home from fighting. In fact, their rehabilitation process is only just beginning. This is often a complex and difficult process involving a variety of professionals and medical support to aid their recovery.
Physical therapy is one part of their journey, which must be accomplished alongside their mental and social rehabilitation. It is therefore integral that healthcare organizations and charities work together to provide holistic care for veterans.
With our platform designed to leverage technology innovation in physical rehabilitation, we are committed to working with organizations from all sectors to support VA clinics deliver even better care.
American veterans put their lives on the line to defend their country, it is our responsibility by harnessing innovation to bring the best quality care that befits their service and valor.