Artificial intelligence is revolutionizing different areas of business every single day as the technology becomes more advanced. Advances in artificial intelligence in the healthcare sector have already helped countless patients, but could the technology eventually end up replacing doctors or physical therapists?
AI-based physical therapy may seem like something from the future, but you may be surprised to learn that it’s already being practiced here in the United States. UnitedHealthcare has already launched its Virtual Physical Therapy program, which it touts as a way for patients to always have access to PT sessions at home or on the go. But the most interesting thing about UnitedHealthcare’s virtual program is that it is powered by artificial intelligence.
Using the Kaia Health app, patients can access on-demand support following an injury or surgery. The AI software claims to be able to identify if a person is practicing a physical therapy activity incorrectly, and it can also offer feedback on how an individual can improve their motion and better align with the appropriate positioning for the exercise. So if AI is already helping initiate and adjust physical therapy exercises, will real-life physical therapists soon become obsolete?
Physical Therapists Are Irreplaceable
While artificial intelligence certainly has the ability to enhance patient care, it simply will not be able to replace the individualized attention and care that you’ll get at the hands of a real-life physical therapist. At the end of the day, every injury or surgery is unique to the individual, so there is no one-size-fits-all therapy plan that will work even if you were to treat an entire cohort dealing with the “same” condition, like a herniated disc or following ACL repair. That individual attention to detail is just one of the ways that artificial intelligence can’t match the benefits of in-person PT.
There are also the in-person symptoms and conditions that an artificial intelligence app simply can’t view or understand. AI can’t view swelling patterns to better understand lymph node health or feel and break up potentially problematic scar tissue using manual therapy techniques before it envelops a nerve and causes additional symptoms. Physical therapists are trained to understand symptoms that can be seen or felt and to develop an appropriate care plan that is unique to the individual, something that AI in its current state simply can’t do.
Artificial intelligence also can’t understand and account for the unique mental and emotional barriers that can present when a person is physically limited. Patients may be frustrated by their lack of progress, anxious about potential physical limitations or sad that their injury is costing them their senior soccer season, and these emotions all have a significant effect on the individual. Physical therapists don’t just handle the physical, we also help you navigate the mental and emotional hurdles that you’ll face on your road to recovery, and it’s this personalized touch that can make all the difference in whether or not a patient overcomes their issues or suffers because of them. Data-driven assessments may be able to flag if an individual is showing signs of a mental health decline, but they can’t provide the personalized care that a patient would benefit from at this time.
Now, that’s not to say that AI doesn’t have a place alongside a physical therapist, because it truly can help enhance the patient experience. AI can analyze real-time data and provide a closer look at movement patterns than we can’t see with the naked eye. It’s also already been implemented to help physical therapists during the documentation stage so that they can spend more time with patients and less time charting or filling out paperwork. Physical therapists who learn to lean into artificial intelligence and advanced technologies will be better able to serve their patients, but the technology isn’t going to be able to fully replace physical therapists.
If you want to connect with a real-life physical therapist and see the benefits we can offer you in person, reach out to the team at OrthoRehab Specialists today at (612) 339-2041.
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