One-half of all adults in the U.S. experience musculoskeletal pain or injury.1 These are people who can find relief, and take back their lives, thanks to the services offered by you as rehab therapy practice owners and providers.
Yet, one of your greatest challenges remains educating healthcare consumers about what you do and how your services can positively impact their lives.
Once this message catches on, though, a second challenge remains. Namely, your next task is to minimize any potential hurdles that might make it difficult for prospective patients to both begin and complete their care journeys with you and your rehab team.
Enter digital MSK, a wide range of outpatient rehab therapy efforts that harness technology to improve patient access, engagement, compliance, outcomes and overall experience, ultimately leading to greater overall revenue potential for the practice.
What makes up digital MSK, and how can such tech-based solutions achieve these benefits? Keep reading to learn more.
How is Digital MSK Implemented?
Digital musculoskeletal therapy (digital MSK) is a means for providing aspects of rehab therapy-based care using digital technologies. This includes the use of computers, smartphones, wearable technology, apps, and other software.
It’s an emerging new way to engage with patients more efficiently and effectively, and it is already being implemented in outpatient rehab therapy clinics of all sizes across the country.
“It’s fundamentally a way of putting the consumer first and trying to raise the level of care across the board,” said Kevin Keenahan, Chief Product Officer at Net Health. “This includes raising the level of care for patients we may have seen already as well as with patients who we may not have necessarily seen, or even encountered, without a digital means for connecting with them.”
One example: the pandemic saw a vast increase in the use of telehealth and virtual appointments across all care settings – a 15-fold increase compared with pre-pandemic levels, according to one study.2
Such services became a necessity for many providers (and patients) during the era of social distancing. And even after the public health emergency (PHE) ended, some rehab therapists continue to use telehealth in some capacity to supplement in-person treatments.
Remote therapeutic monitoring (RTM) is another aspect of digital MSK that clinics have implemented with great success, both in revenue and patient outcomes.
Other aspects of digital MSK include:
- Patient portals
- Online scheduling / reminders
- Digital home exercise programs (HEP)
- Direct patient messaging
- Patient-reported outcomes
- Net promoter scores
“At this point, as technology continues to evolve and innovators in the rehab therapy space uncover new ways to apply these technologies to better serve patients, digital MSK really doesn’t have one definition, shape or form,” said Tannus Quatre, PT, MBA, VP of Therapy Sales at Net Health. “It’s actually still evolving in real time.”
What Are the Benefits of Digital MSK?
Rehab therapy patients and providers can realize benefits from programs, services and tools that fall under the digital MSK umbrella. From the point of view of providers, however, here are five key benefits they can expect through the implementation of digital MSK at their clinics:
1. Reach More People for Rehab Therapy Care
Without digital MSK, rehab therapy clinicians can only help those able to enter their clinic doors. While this may not seem like an Earth-shattering statement – of course you can do your best work during in-person appointments – consider the limitations so many patients must overcome to simply show up.
If they’re injured, in pain or have limited transportation, making it to all appointments (including the first one) may be difficult. An online telehealth consult may be just what’s needed to assure them that you’re worth the effort.
“A lot of these digital MSK models are really exciting because they’re able to capture patients who might have just kind of suffered in silence and not seen a rehab therapist,” Keenahan said. “Of course, we know that if they see a rehab therapist, they can see tremendously positive outcomes. So these digital options give physical, occupational and speech therapists a way of capturing patients they typically wouldn’t have seen.”
A combination of virtual check-ins and fewer in-person appointments may help patients with limited scheduling options or who have far to travel to reach your clinic.
2. Better Engage with Today’s Patients with Digital Therapy Solutions
In an age of value-based care and healthcare consumerism, the typical patient expects more from their providers. This includes better communication, appointment reminders, HEP guides, greater access to scheduling portals, and so on.
The implementation of therapeutic monitoring can also empower patient engagement, Quatre said.
“It’s a component of a therapy plan of care that is actually engaging, providing feedback and touchpoints to the patient in a way that’s keeping them more engaged and more compliant with the entirety of their plan of care,” he said.
This all adds up to a better overall healthcare experience for patients of providers who step up to meet these expectations.
Of course, such engagement also typically results in fewer missed appointments and self-discharges as well as greater outcomes.
3. Achieve Better Patient Outcomes
One of the key goals of implementing elements of digital MSK is to remain engaged with patients between appointments while providing online options for those who struggle to make regular one-on-one treatment sessions.
It also enables providers to better cater to the personal needs of patients, offering digital solutions that help ensure they remain active participants in their treatment plans from first contact through the competition of individual plans of care.
By ensuring a greater number of patients complete their plans of care, providers often see an improvement in not just patient satisfaction, but overall patient outcome measures.
Such improvements can be tracked and even compared with data from other rehab therapists nationwide through the implementation of a patient-reported outcomes tool – yet another aspect of digital MSK.
4. Increase Market Share in Your Community
Going with the theme that healthcare consumers love options and accommodating their needs digitally can help engage new populations of patients, it stands to reason that offering digital services can boost the brand appeal of outpatient rehab therapy practices.
Results from a recent McKinsey’s Consumer Health Insights poll appear to confirm the desire patients have for digital options. More than half of the poll respondents say they would prefer a health plan that offers virtual health benefits, citing convenience and safety as the biggest drivers.3
Therefore, offering such services can help your practice secure a greater market share within your region and/or community.
Take online reviews, for example. Digital services that impact compliance, leading to more positive outcomes, can improve online ratings and overall scores. Same with net promoter scores (NPS).
Also, by providing access to patient portals and improving provider-patient communication through features like secure direct messaging, remote therapeutic monitoring (RTM), digital home exercise programs, etc., rehab therapists increase the likelihood of securing patients for life. In other words, past patients will be more likely to visit your clinic again in the future.
5. Boost Top-Line Revenue with Digital MSK
Some services that fall under the digital MSK umbrella are reimbursable, creating opportunities for additional revenue within your rehab therapy operation. This includes telehealth appointments as well as remote therapeutic monitoring services – that is if they’re performed and billed/coded correctly.
Digital tools can also improve connectivity throughout your community, enabling effective and more direct service opportunities with local partners like large employers, schools, senior living communities, and so on.
“One of the things that’s important for the growth of any business, including physical therapy practices, is the ability to diversify revenue streams and have a diverse composition to your book of business,” Quatre said. “Digital MSK offers a great vehicle into that while allowing a physical therapy practice to directly contract with local employers, or even local plans.”
Outpatient rehab therapy operators will likely realize more indirect, top-line value from implementing digital services. From increasing market share to improving patient activation, the value of digital MSK care is often felt throughout all corners of a clinic.
“We’re really in an era where digital MSK, or even the broader category of digital health, is here to say,” Quatre added. “It’s evolving rapidly, and the speed by which we’re able to adopt it successfully and start to creative that value, more than anything, is going to map to our ability as a rehab therapy profession to continue to grow the base of customers who come to us and choose us a provider of choice versus the many other alternatives that exist in the market.”
If you want to learn more about digital MSK and how aspects of such care can boost your practice’s services as it evolves toward value-based care, let’s talk! Schedule a consultation today, and we’ll be happy to walk you through the benefits of digital MSK care.
1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Physical, Speech, Rehabilitative, or Occupational Therapy Use Among Adults Aged 25-64, by Veteran Status,” August 2022.
2 U.S. Government Accountability Office, “Telehealth in the Pandemic – How Has It Changed Healthcare Delivery in Medicaid and Medicare?” Sept. 29, 2022.
3 McKinsey & Company, “Consumer Health Insights: How Respondents Are Adapting to the ‘New Normal’” March 25, 2022.