PTs and OTs Should Embrace Mobile Health

Do you remember when pager technology felt like it changed the way the healthcare system worked? 

And then came the World Wide Web, and then high-speed internet. 

Then broadband networks begot smartphones, and smartphones begot app stores, and app stores begot mhealth (mobile health) apps, and then the next thing we all knew mhealth apps and wearable tech had enabled a constant flow of patient-generated health data, and the way health and healthcare services are administered will - yet again - be changed forever.

If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said faster horses.
— Henry Ford

In 2016, more than 20% of Americans own wearable devices and use them to monitor their health in some way. And over 58% of smartphone users have downloaded at least one mobile health app.

According to a recent survey conducted by market research agency ORC International for the Society for Participatory Medicine:

  • 90% of patients say they want to partner with their healthcare providers to live healthier lives. 
  • 84% say they believe self-monitoring apps and devices can boost health management efforts. 
  • 81% say are likely to use a mobile health device when recommended by a provider.

There’s simply no question that people want to interact with their healthcare providers through technology. It's clear that both ‘upstream’ and ‘downstream’ pressures are pushing healthcare in this direction.

So I suppose the real question is this ...


Who in healthcare is best positioned to take advantage of these trends?


Why I Believe Physical Therapists Must Embrace mHealth

The Future of Physical Therapy

Wellness Care through Mobile Health

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) seems to be encouraging the profession to move in a new direction. 

Perhaps more accurately, this was always the vision for the profession and it’s just taken this long for the various forces to come together and allow monumental change to take place. Either way, they are calling for Physical Therapists to reinvent themselves.

Now that the battles for direct access in all 50 states have been won (for the most part) they are calling for Physical Therapists to “transform society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience".

This sounds like a tall order, unless you understand the newfound freedom that Physical Therapists have as practitioners, no longer being entirely tethered to physicians. This liberty - coupled with the fact that the demand for physical therapy and rehabilitation is at an all time high - is giving rise to tremendous opportunity for the profession as a whole.   

In 2014, in its published position statement entitled Physical Therapists’ Role In Prevention, Wellness, Fitness, And Disease Management, the APTA called Physical Therapists to become …


“The dynamic link between health and healthcare.”


Take a moment to consider that statement. When I first read it, it jolted my nervous system a bit (in a good way). I pondered this for a while, then it hit me. There really isn’t, nor has there ever been a dynamic link between health and healthcare. As pessimistic as that sounds, it’s true.  

What I think the APTA is getting at is that the healthcare system absolutely needs a group of providers to step up and fill a void, and of course they are advocating that it be PTs!


Outstanding Vision. Tremendous Opportunity. What Now?

We, at Nudge, believe Mobile Health can be the bridge to making this vision and opportunity a reality. In fact, I would venture to say that this vision is merely a dream without the technology to actually accomplish it.

Technological advances like the internet, smartphones, and wearable devices have paved the way for people to use technology to manage their health, and for healthcare providers to engage with their patients.

Note:  I've put together a bonus resource at the end of this post that gives you 2 simple ways to increase revenue by using mobile health with your patients. ]

Today, most smartphones have accelerometers built into them to track our movement. And, according to the International Data Corporation (IDC) over 78 million wearable devices were purchased in 2015 alone, primarily for the purpose of mobile health and movement tracking.


It stands to reason then, that movement specialists would benefit from using movement-tracking technology, and users of movement tracking technology would benefit from sharing their data with movement specialists. Don't you think?


Until now, there hasn’t been an efficient, HIPAA compliant way to do that.

Nudge set out to solve that problem, and with it many other challenges that Physical Therapists face on a daily basis with their patients in the following areas:


1. Engagement

Patient Engagement for PTs

This involves a person’s sustained participation in managing their health in a way that creates the necessary self-efficacy to achieve physical, mental and social well-being.

Home exercise programs and in-person discussions during rehab are good, along with occasional emails, phone calls and newsletters post-rehab. But again, that’s not how most people are engaging with the world any longer.

People want real-time, interactive tools and to feel a sense of connectedness 24/7. At the end of the day, like most things in life, engagement is a choice that cannot be forced or manipulated.

Therefore, engagement is much more likely to occur if you interact with people in the way they have already chosen for themselves. This is the next level of “patient relationship management”.


2. Communication

Similarly, communication has always been a challenge because it’s only happening a couple times a week for short periods of time. Communication and engagement are directly related to one another. Optimal communication can fuel engagement and vice-versa.

The challenge is that everyone’s time is scarce in this day and age, so efficiency is vital. But, how can one efficiently foster a relationship that stands the test of time? Would we take this approach with a new friend?  

The dilemma is that both patients and providers want to build real, long-term relationships with one another, but too often a limited connection with too many practitioners leaves patients feeling as though they are not being fully cared for, so they never let their guard down and they don’t fully engage. This leads to a complete communication breakdown, and in turn, suboptimal outcomes.

The solution for this is better connectivity through a HIPAA compliant communication platform that allows patients and providers to stay in touch between clinical sessions. 

Perception is quite often stronger than reality, and even though this type of communication may not be very deep, it’s still meaningful and it has been proven to have a positive impact on long-term, lifestyle outcomes.   


3. Marketing

There are many effective marketing strategies and tactics, but none more effective than building relationships and nurturing those relationships over time.

Satisfied customers (patients) should be repeat patients, and they ought to be the best sources of referrals as well. If that’s not happening it’s a problem that needs to be solved right away! No service business can afford what it costs to acquire new customers purely from scratch.

[ Note:  there are 2 simple ways to monetize using mobile health with your patients, and I've included them for you in a bonus resource at the end of this post ]

If you’re a Physical Therapist and you know you’re providing good service, but your patients aren’t coming back or referring others it may just be a marketing problem.

One of the challenges of the modern world is that everyone is moving a mile a minute. We all have so much going on and have such enormous amounts of information coming at us all the time. Even unforgettable experiences can be difficult to remember when we are in the thick of it.

One great way to ensure your patients don’t lose sight of your value is to simply stay in touch with them and continue to provide value. Innovative mHealth technology like Nudge allows you to do that in a unique way that your patients will actually appreciate, and even pay for.  


4. Touchpoints

mHealth Patient Monitoring

You’ve probably heard this fancy marketing term, which simply means: the way a business/brand/practice communicates and interacts with its customers/patients.  The common ways this occurs is through websites, email, newsletters, blogs, direct mail, etc.  

Mobile Health is a newer form of touchpoint, but we believe a much more powerful one. Here’s why … numerous behavioral studies have demonstrated that general feedback and follow up are only marginally effective; specific feedback and follow up about things that you know are important to the other person are much more impactful.

For example, telling someone, “good Job” is okay, but it’s much more impactful if you say “good job, I really liked how you [fill in the blank]”.

Similarly, when following up with someone saying, “how have you been?” is okay, but saying, “how have you been? … I hope you had a great trip to Europe last month,” is much more impactful because attention to detail shows people you care about them as individuals, not just another member of a cohort (i.e. “patient-base”/ “inactive patients”).  

What if you had access to all of your patients mobile health data whether they were in rehab or not … how much more impactful could your touchpoints be?  

Is it possible that a direct link that provides you meaningful insight into your patients overall health and the ability to communicate with them about it in an ongoing fashion could aid in you becoming their ‘dynamic link between health and healthcare’ as the APTA called for?

Would your patients even be willing to pay you to interact with them in this way, rather than you spending a bunch of time and money to stay connected in more general, less personal ways?

  • YES


5. Money

Revenue Streams for PTs

I know the “m-word” is often taboo in healthcare, but as in life, it’s a necessity. If you can't pay your bills, you can't keep your doors open, and it's hard to help anyone. You’ve probably noticed that although demand for physical therapy services has been increasing, reimbursements are decreasing. You know it’s essential that you look for new ways to increase revenue in your practice.

Expanding your scope, as the APTA suggests and envisions, to fill imminent voids in the healthcare system sure seems like a smart direction to go.

I hope I’ve given you some food for thought as it relates to using mobile health to make that shift, and perhaps Nudge as your secret weapon.

Now you know:

  • Why mobile health has so much potential in healthcare
  • Why Physical Therapists are positioned perfectly to take advantage of this massive opportunity
  • And how you can use mobile health to provide better ongoing value to your patients