May 23, 2024 | Net Health

7 min read

Panel Discusses the Future of Rehab Therapy Tech at NEXT Customer Conference

The inaugural Net Health NEXT Customer Conference underscored the importance of technology and partnership

Technology was the topic du jour during the Rehab Therapy Breakout Session at the first annual Net Health NEXT Customer Conference in early May, during which six panelists discussed how change and innovation are shaping the industry today while looking ahead to the future of tech in rehab therapy.

Tannus Quatre, PT, MBA, Senior Vice President and Chief Business Development Officer with Net Health, moderated the 90-minute session that featured perspectives from rehab therapy practitioners, entrepreneurs, analytics experts, and technology specialists.

The panel featured Net Health’s own Kevin Keenhan, Chief Product Officer; Noori Dhillon, Director of Product / EHR Extensions; and Doug Cundiff, MPT, MPH, Vice President of Hospital Therapy Solutions. They were joined by Steven Cohen, CEO and Foundar of SaRA Health, and Tim Marshall, Ph.D., MHA, MS, Senior Director of Analytics and Insights with Ivy Rehab Network.

These six experts outlined the opportunities and challenges that come with innovations in rehab therapy, whether improving patient equity and experiences, integrations, interoperability, or critical partnerships.

“Therapy operators and technology partners need to align toward a future that continues to add value and expand rehab therapy’s reach in order to deliver the largest basket of goods and services possible within the communities we serve,” Quatre said. “I’m pleased to see that we are doing so and will continue that journey in partnership with our customer-partners on the front lines of rehab therapy care.”

Here are our favorite highlights of the technology and innovation discussed during this enlightening event.

Improving Patient Equity, Access, and Experiences with Tech

Panelists agreed that the evolution of digital tools to improve patient access, when applied appropriately, has the potential to positively impact healthcare equity while improving patient experiences.

According to Cohen and Marshall, the strategic application of digital services like telehealth, remote therapeutic monitoring (RTM), digital home exercise apps, patient portals, and more, can lead to higher rates of patient compliance and overall improved patient outcomes. This all may contribute to a higher bottom line.

To demonstrate this, Marshall referred to a study the Ivy Rehab team completed which focused on a subset of patients who were engaged through their RTM program. They found that of these RTM participants, more than 13% achieved their patient-required outcome goal and 15% fewer patients decided to end their episode of care within five visits.

A patient comparison done by Cohen also found positive outcome results. When patients participated in an RTM program via SaRA Health, they achieved their outcomes in an average of 2.3 fewer visits. But because these engaged patients attended more appointments, the clinic represented in the study earned an average of $47 more per episode of care.

And, since telehealth and hybrid care options remove travel from the care equation, digital tools enable these patients who have issues with time, transportation, or mobility to still see rehab therapists when necessary.

Embracing the Use of Advanced Metrics

With these digital tools comes data, the amount and complexity of which is continually growing. This means that rehab therapists, from the smallest independent private practices to larger hospital outpatient clinics, have more access to data than ever before.

What do we do with all these advanced analytics? As an industry, rehab therapists must embrace it, Marshall posited.

With the recent advancements in machine learning, predictive analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI), rehab therapy professionals have more opportunities than ever before to better understand and develop actionable insights from this data.

As such, Keenahan pointed out that, from clinical data and information on patient outcomes to operational KPIs and business intelligence, today’s analytics come in many flavors. The key, he said, is that all healthcare facilities, including rehab therapy clinics, must determine which uses are most important to them.

In other words, once a healthcare team has data and insights around that information they’re interested in, like patient compliance, clinical outcomes, or operational efficiencies, how do they plan to use this information to improve their bottom lines? Answering this, according to the panel, will help facilities prioritize resources as they invest in further developing their data architecture.

Integration and Interoperability

Speaking of developing data architecture, the panel emphasized the critical importance of integration and interoperability in healthcare, particularly through the use of Substitutable Medical Applications, Reusable Technologies (SMART) on Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) integrations.

  • SMART, or SMART Health IT, is a “standards-based technology platform that enables innovators to create apps that seamlessly and securely run across the healthcare system.”
  • FHIR is a standard that “defines how healthcare can be exchanged between different computer systems regardless of how it is stored in those systems,” according to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology.

Keenhan explained that when combined, SMART on FHIR builds on the FHIR standard by providing a framework for creating standardized, reusable healthcare applications. It includes specifications for how apps can securely access FHIR data from EHR systems.

Such improved integrations across various healthcare settings can give rehab therapists a more holistic view of a patient’s medical history, treatments, and progress. This interconnected approach not only facilitates more accurate and timely diagnoses but also improves treatment outcomes by ensuring all healthcare providers are on the same page.

Rolling Out New Tech-Based Programs

With rehab therapy organizations taking on new and innovative tools to improve operations and the services and treatments they provide patients, the panel’s conversation turned to the process of testing and rolling out new solutions. Specifically, is it best to start with a small pilot program, or does a larger push toward new solutions make more sense?

Referring to a process she outlined as “Pilot. Learn. Grow.”, Dhillon advocated for the use of pilot programs. She said that by laying out and implementing a framework for pilot programs, rehab therapy operations can test new technologies in a controlled way before pushing it out to the entire rehab therapy clinic, department, or facility.

A pilot program is a small-scale, preliminary study conducted to evaluate the feasibility, time, cost, risk, and adverse effects involved with implementing a new technology within the healthcare setting. The goal of a pilot program is to test new tools to identify and address potential challenges before a full-scale rollout.

By engaging key stakeholders of new tech solutions (users, clinicians, patients, etc.), real-world testing through a pilot program helps ensure future scalability and staff buy-in as it offers ways for all of them to contribute feedback prior to a large-scale rollout.

For example, pilot programs can be used to test such things as EHRs, digital musculoskeletal (MSK) tools (i.e., telehealth, RTM, patient portals), outcome management solutions, business intelligence dashboards, AI and predictive analytics applications, and more.

Establishing Strong Vendor Partnerships

Panelists agreed that it would be virtually impossible for rehab therapy operators, directors, and practitioners to fully grasp the challenges and opportunities that these new technological innovations, like EHRs, data-driven insights, integration, interoperability, and compliance, present. That’s why it’s going to become increasingly important for these healthcare teams to form trusted partnerships with key vendors within the tech field.

Cohen noted that “partnerships” is the key word to consider when moving ahead with new and innovative tools in the healthcare space.

“If you have a vendor, you have a problem,” he said. “If you have a partner, you have a higher chance of success.” That’s because a vendor-based relationship is simply transactional. Vendors deliver products and services based on a contract which, in many cases, also outlines levels of engagement and support. This is all important, of course, but technology partners take this to a different level.

A tech partnership is more of a collaborative relationship. Yes, the partner is providing contracted products and services, but they take it a step further by also focusing on the goals and success of your organization.

Partners are more likely to offer tailored solutions and innovate based on the specific feedback and requirements of a healthcare organization. They are flexible and responsive to changes, and they want to be involved in helping organizations grow and plan for the future, providing insight and advice based on their technological expertise.

The future of rehab therapy is one grounded in collaboration and innovation, with new technology, like analytics and telehealth that can be integrated into existing operations, leading the way. But the human element can’t be overstated.

“As the rehab therapy professions evolve, there’s a symbiotic relationship between therapy operators and their technology partners to align to current and future needs of rehab therapy patients and all stakeholders across the rehab therapy ecosystem, such as patients, tech partners, payors, health systems, governments, etc.,” Quatre said. “What we’ve seen is that rehab therapy has evolved substantially over the past 25 years through this symbiotic relationship, and the pace of change is speeding up as we look forward over the coming five to 10 years.”

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