The rehab equipment industry has changed drastically in the last few years. Some tools have gained popularity, others are on the decline and the market is brimming with new products designed to improve patient care and make therapists’ lives easier.
Many of these changes have been driven by changing reimbursement structures as clinic directors have had to adjust their practices to stay profitable. Still, other new developments have more to do with aging patient populations, the availability of better technologies and parallel changes in surgical practices.
In an age when consumer and payer preferences are shaping provider practices, it’s important to stay abreast of what other players in the industry are doing and understand how their actions may ultimately affect your department.
Aquatic therapy is on the rise, particularly among elderly people and osteoarthritis patients. Water provides both buoyancy and resistance, a combination that may benefit people whose joints are too inhibited or painful for land-based, full range of motion exercises.
Specifically, the APTA has recently highlighted studies that suggest aquatic exercise is beneficial for patients who suffer from both knee and hip osteoarthritis, and that it may help them transition to land-based exercise. In fact, aquatic therapy has also been used in combination with traditional gait and balance training following traumatic brain injuries.
2. Apps and Wearables
Fracture, muscle tear or tendinitis? There’s an app for that — or at least there probably will be soon. Mobile applications for both therapists and patients are a fast-growing trend, and their popularity isn’t surprising considering the growth of fitness-related apps. These programs include directories and other educational tools for patients, as well as goniometers, timers and other measurement tools for clinicians.
Similarly, the APTA has noted the potential of wearable technology, including watches, wristbands, headbands and other sensor-equipped devices. Consumer wearables already allow users to monitor vital signs and activity levels, and the same technology could soon be used to collect reliable data traditionally gleaned from subjective and objective exams. Ultimately, that data could be used to prescribe more effective treatments and reduce healing times by monitoring fatigue.
3. Gamified Rehab
From education to wellness, gamification has taken several industries by storm. Gaming has also made its way into the rehab clinic in the last few years, and more and more therapists are using devices such as the Nintendo Wii to engage patients.
Early research from Johns Hopkins has found that patients enjoy the challenge and audio-visual stimulation these games provide, and other case studies have even demonstrated the Wii’s usefulness for cerebral palsy and burn patients. Ultimately, games may prove to be excellent rehab tools for a wide variety of conditions — not to mention a great way to generate buy-in from patients.
4. Rehab Robotics
Robotics have opened up a whole new frontier for neurological rehabilitation. Practice makes perfect, after all, and according to the Indiana University Physical Therapy department, a robot might allow spinal cord patients to take ten times the number of steps they would accomplish in a traditional hour-long session.
One of the most talked-about devices on the market is the Ekso Bionics Ekso suit, a battery-powered, body-shaped harness that allows patients with spinal cord injuries to practice normal gait. Similarly, Lokomat, a robotic treadmill, helps patients regain mobility and practice repetitive movements. And as companies innovate and streamline their designs, they could become an important part of your day-to-day practice.
5. Emphasis on Transitional Care
The Affordable Care Act continues to drive changes in healthcare delivery. One of the most pressing issues for PTs and their patients’ physicians is the Readmissions Reduction Program, which aims to reduce re-injuries and unnecessary follow-up appointments.
PTs haven’t traditionally been involved in transitional care, but given the ACA mandate — and the overall stress on the healthcare system — that likely will change. The Journal of Physical Therapy recently published, “Role of Physical Therapists in Reducing Hospital Readmissions,” which highlights the link between post-hospitalization functional decline and elevated risk of readmission. 2014 also saw the publication of “Physical Therapy Information: Could it Reduce Hospital 30-Day Admissions?”
To achieve a significant reduction in readmissions, PTs will need to work closely with physicians, patients and other healthcare team members on education, discharge planning and preventive care. For patients who require assistive devices and passive rehab equipment, PTs may also need to advise on their purchase or rental.
6. Increased Use of Light Therapy
Light therapy has gained significant praise from patients and PTs over the past several years. The past 15 years have also brought about a new body of research supporting the efficacy of low-level lasers (LLTs) and light-emitting diodes (LEDs) for a variety of applications. From wound care to sports injuries to neuro-rehabilitation, light therapy is an excellent tool for therapists to use in combination with traditional techniques.
Innovations in light therapy have also made it a more accessible, affordable option for most clinics and rehab departments. In particular, multi-modality tools that include LLT, LED and ultrasound allow clinicians to apply a variety of light and sound therapies without buying multiple new devices. Given light therapy’s speed, convenience and popularity among patients, it will only become more important in PT practice in 2017.