Revolutionizing physical therapy: the transformative role of AI in diagnosis, treatment, and patient care
As we look into the future, the field of physical therapy stands on the brink of a profound revolution, driven by the potential of AI. Much like a skilled practitioner, AI can play a pivotal role in differential diagnosis, determining prognoses, developing personalized treatment plans, and in communication, monitoring and progression of treatment plans from afar.
December 7, 2023 | Shane Foley, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS
In the ever-evolving landscape of healthcare, the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) has already proven to be a transformative force. Many large hospital organizations are already utilizing this these technologies in things like reading x-rays and MRIs, and for pattern recognition in diagnosis disorders. As we look into the future, the field of physical therapy stands on the brink of a profound revolution, driven by the potential of AI. Much like a skilled practitioner, AI can play a pivotal role in differential diagnosis, determining prognoses, developing personalized treatment plans, and in communication, monitoring and progression of treatment plans from afar. AI is poised to elevate the practice of physical therapy into a more dynamic service offering, by improving precision and efficiency in diagnosis and treatment while fostering enhanced communication between therapists and patients.
One of the primary challenges in orthopedic physical therapy lies in consistency and accuracy of diagnosing a condition, and then developing the best treatment plan to return back to activity without pain and mitigate risk of injury recurrence. AI, with its ability to process vast datasets, synthesize research and identify patterns beyond human capacity, becomes a powerful tool in this regard. Physical therapists, Board Certified Orthopedic or Sports Clinical Specialists, those in Residency or Fellowship post-doctoral training, can all benefit from this tool. By analyzing patient history, imaging, and clinical data, AI algorithms can assist therapists in pinpointing the root cause of musculoskeletal issues with specific accuracy. With this, from the evaluation, patients can know that best guidelines are used to create the framework for the therapist to begin care. This then allows the experience and true artistry of the therapist’s manual therapy and patient specific rehab program design to come into play. This is the real differentiator!
The marriage of human expertise and AI prediction capabilities promises a more dynamic and responsive approach to patient care. This will allow both synchronous and asynchronous analysis of technique and form with prescribed exercises, communication, and the assimilating patient data, lifestyle factors, and treatment responses. AI models can help to forecast the likely trajectory of a condition in real time, providing foresight that enables therapists to proactively adapt treatment plans, optimize outcomes and potentially prevent the exacerbation of symptoms.
Personalization is the cornerstone of effective physical therapy and in high quality patient care. With the busy clinic environment in many physical therapy practices across the country, too often, a 16 y/o patient who tore their ACL and a 65 y/o patient with a knee replacement begin their treatment with the cookie-cutter “Knee Program.” AI helps to develop an evidence based framework for the patient, that the therapist can then use their creativity and expertise to tailor treatment plans to individual needs.
Continuous learning capabilities enable real-time adjustments to treatment plans based on patient progress. Although there is an expected timeline of recovery, as we have seen many times in professional sports, there are many specific and individualized factors which may cause someone to be on one side of the rehab timeline or the other. This iterative and adaptive approach ensures that therapy evolves dynamically, addressing the unique challenges each patient faces throughout their rehabilitation journey and that the determination of time to return to activity is appropriate.
Effective communication is integral to a successful therapeutic alliance between physical therapists and their patients. AI contributes to this aspect by facilitating seamless and personalized communication channels. AI-powered platforms can offer patients real-time guidance, support, and educational resources. These tools not only empower patients to actively participate in their rehabilitation, but also foster a continuous feedback loop between the therapist and the individual. The result is a collaborative and informed approach where patients feel engaged and motivated throughout the treatment process.
As we look toward the future of physical therapy, the symbiotic relationship between human expertise and artificial intelligence promises a paradigm shift in healthcare delivery. The integration of AI in differential diagnosis, prognosis determination, treatment plan development, and patient communication holds the potential to revolutionize the field, providing practitioners with unprecedented tools for precision and efficiency. Utilization of AI in physical therapy is the evolution of their field, a progression to a true hybrid-rehab model.
The hands-on manual artistry of a physical therapist will always be an irreplaceable skill to not just fact-check AI, but to help alleviate pain, decreased muscle tightness, improve mobility, provide tactile cuing for correct exercise performance, and build a trusting relationship between two human beings. It is my position that in the hands of a highly educated, experienced clinician, the utilization of AI is the future of best practice in clinical base healthcare. The utilization of AI across all levels and experiences of clinicians in the field of physical therapy helps to raise the floor, and overall quality of care that can be provided by anyone, anywhere. Thus, helping more people get better both completely and faster.
Shane Foley, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS, is an orthopedic specialist who is certified in strength and conditioning, dry needling, and the Schroth Method. He has a deep passion for building relationships, helping people accomplish their goals and leading people to optimize their performance.