Embracing Innovation: The Future of Physical Therapy

ai healthcare physical therapy preventative care telehealth wellness Apr 18, 2024

By Natalie Fan - LinkedIn

In a world of changing demands for careers, healthcare will always be a prevalent and needed category of profession. With the dramatic technological advancements that we have observed throughout the past few decades, professions including physical therapy are undergoing significant transformations to use modern technology to their advantage. This article will discuss the future of physical therapy and the promising opportunities it holds for aspiring professionals.

The physical therapy profession is projected to expand, leaving plenty of opportunities for anyone who is looking to pursue a career in this field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 15% increase in the profession between 2022 and 2032, which is well above the average (5-8%). In part this is due to the aging population in America, which will increasingly require these services for years to come. At the APTA (American Physical Therapy Association) Future of Physical Therapy Summit held in 2021, leaders highlighted ways the profession is poised to improve and grow throughout the coming years. The main points of this summit included building a stronger community, advancing healthcare systems, and broadening services to underserved communities. Each of these points continue to be addressed today.

One of the most notable trends shaping the future of physical therapy is the integration of cutting-edge technologies. From wearable devices that track movement and monitor vital signs to virtual reality simulations for rehabilitation exercises, technology is revolutionizing the way physical therapy is delivered. These developments have allowed for more accurate and effective treatments and give the career more space to expand. An example of these technologies would be the development of sensor technology. In an article from The University of the Cumberlands, sensor technology was identified as, “perhaps the most significant development in physical therapy technology in recent years.” Sensor technology is easy to use and can provide medical professionals with specific biometric data that can be used to monitor and track progression throughout a client’s treatment. In addition, while AI is disrupting many industries, physical therapy is an area where new AI tools help therapists design treatment plans, but pose less risk to replacing them outright due to the human-to-human complexities required in the role.

The rise of telehealth has ushered in new possibilities for delivering physical therapy services remotely. The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering defines telehealth as “the use of communications technologies to provide health care at a distance.” Telehealth allows physical therapists to connect with their patients through video consultations, where they can provide guidance on exercises, and track their progress without requiring them to come into the office. This trend has become particularly significant during the COVID-19 pandemic, which underscored the importance of remote healthcare delivery. This form of healthcare allows medical professionals to reach a much broader range of patients who are looking for more convenient and accessible ways to address their health concerns. As telehealth capabilities expand and become more sophisticated, physical therapists can expect to play a pivotal role in providing accessible and convenient care to a broader range of patients.

In addition to traditional rehabilitation services, there is a growing emphasis on preventive care and wellness promotion within the field of physical therapy. There has been a recent rise in sharing medical advice through social media and the internet. Physical therapists can use these platforms to share information and advice with the public and encourage taking care of your body. Recognizing the importance of proactive measures in maintaining optimal health and function, physical therapists are increasingly involved in designing exercise programs, ergonomic assessments, and injury prevention strategies for individuals of all ages and abilities. By empowering people to adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors early on, physical therapists can contribute to reducing healthcare costs and improving long-term outcomes.

The future of physical therapy as a career is filled with promise and opportunity, fueled by technological advancements, evolving healthcare models, and a growing emphasis on preventive care. Aspiring physical therapists can look forward to a dynamic and rewarding career path that allows them to make a meaningful difference in the lives of their patients. 

So what should you do if you are interested in pursuing Physical therapy?

Actionable Steps:

  • Stay Updated: Keep informed about the latest tech in physical therapy using reputable sources.
  • Tech Skills: Build proficiency in using relevant tech tools. Consider taking courses or workshops that focus on these technologies.
  • Hands-On Practice: Seek out internships to gain experience in clinics or labs with modern tech.
  • Network: Connect with professionals and join related groups.
  • Research Opportunities: Explore research opportunities within your academic institution or through external programs, ideally ones that focus on the application of technology in physical therapy.
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