Smart Phone Use by Physical Therapists

A Physical Therapist using his cell phone today in clinic.

Houston, we have a problem!

Kyle’s post about smart phone use by physicians had a brief reference to some data attempting to describe smart phone use by PT’s. Well, we did some digging and discovered the real figures. This information is preliminary data obtained when PT Journal surveyed a representative sample of APTA member subscribers and was relayed to me by personal communication from the managing editor. The response rate was limited (~30%) which is why this is preliminary data, but I’m told the demographics of the responders matched the journal’s overall demographics. The numbers are concerning when the respondents were asked, “Do you use a smartphones to access professional content?

Essentially, more than half (54%) of the respondents from this preliminary survey were not interested in using smart phones to access professional content, thus rendering the phones significantly less smart. We have no idea how many PT’s own smart phones, but to me it this question is more important that how many people own a smart phone. To compare, numbers for physician use of smart phones range from 72% to 80% depending on the survey. Yikes!

Why the disparity between two related professions? I’m just not sure. I am looking forward to more data of this sort. We need to figure this out. I’ll leave you with this quote from Stewart Brand:

“Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road”

16 Replies to “Smart Phone Use by Physical Therapists”

  1. Great post Eric. I guess my question is why do I need a smart phone? I have internet connectivity at home and unlimited connectivity at the office. I have professional subscriptions to all medical databases. What advantage will a smart phone provide me that I already do not have? Thanks again for the post!

  2. Part of the reason that more physicians than physical therapists are using smart phones might be the availability of medical apps versus those geared towards the PT profession. I am certain this will change measurably in the future as PT’s innovate around their needs and leverage current technology.

  3. Eric,

    You raise a good point. To me, it’s not so much that the Internet is the key benefit, but more the app world that smart phones bring to consumers. Apps allow you to be potentially much more efficient in obtaining information. For example, Clinically Relevant’s Orthopaedic Exam app (CORE). At the touch of my finger, I have a virtual library of special tests without the encumbrance of searching through the web. The same for anatomy with a different app. And, apps are being designed for much more than information retrieval, but patient interaction as well. In my eyes, this movement with smart phones is about how people are accessing information, and more than just a connectivity issue.

  4. I work in a SNF that is an older building and cell phone reception with in the building and therapy gym is spotty. I end up using the computer for my resources at this time.

  5. Eric,

    Thanks for your thoughts…My feeling is (besides HIPPA issues) isn’t this taking some of the personality out of what we do? The difference between what we do and the MDs do is that we listen to the patient. MDs are too busy! One of our top referrals at our clinic is a great Physician, but the biggest complaint that I hear from the patients is that they feel that he doesn’t listen to them because he is actively talking into his dictation “ap.” during the examination. In an era where people sue healthcare providers because they don’t seem to care, this may be a liability.

    On a separate note, I feel that one of our greatest marketing strategies in an environment where POPTS are legal and we are competing against clinics that offers “perk plans” to Physicians for referrals, is that the “old fashioned” approach is what sets us apart from all the others whom may seem too dialed into their phones to listen to the patient’s concerns. We do use email blasts and facebook postings for newsletters, etc, but to whip out my smartphone to show a patient how to do an exercise or where their plantaris is – is in my opinion a bit out of touch. Patients want to see the models and see physical demonstrations of home exercise programs. In months where we may not have the financial flexibility for marketing “trinkets/handouts,” that piece of paper with the patient’s exercises on our letterhead is valuable marketing that the patient will keep with him/her and will be reminded of where they received their care for future episodes of care.

    I believe there is a very valuable place for this information in clinical practice, but we just cannot get carried away with it to the point that the patient may feel that they do not need us anymore. What is the breaking point to where the patients feel that they can get all they need with their own smartphone, saving them their $30 copays. Then where will we be? Just some food for thought. Great posts! I am loving the site, Eric!

  6. Thanks for the comments, Eric. I don’t disagree in principle, although I also don’t think the two sides are mutually exclusive concepts. And, given the numbers we’re seeing about PT’s and technology, I’m not sure we need to worry about advocating for the old-fashioned approach. 😉

  7. I think both Eric Furto’s position is also somewhat correct, paired with the fact of not enough exposure to the potential therefore not establishing enough value for the standard PT to take the plunge. I am not entirely sure of the technophobic aspect, considering the relative youth of our profession. The young tend to be the first adopters of new tech. As well, more/newer tech is some PTs eyes is not a good thing b/c it might take away from the interaction. However, it seems to be more about how the tech fits into the treatment session, and I agree on the mutual exclusivity of the phone and the computer. Thanks for the survey.

  8. Eric,

    I think the smart phone needs to integrate with the clinic EMR and access patient data at the point of care to improve efficiency and safety.

    The Clinically Relevant iPhone app for the Lumbar Manipulation rule is a good example…

    …it includes the five tests in the rule and generates a plan of care but there is no print or export feature.

    I don’t think PTs are technophobic. We’re some of the smartest and highly motivated clinicians around. When some of my buddies from junior college didn’t make the cut for PT school they elected to go to PA or medical school – no joke!

    When PTs perceive smart phones to be an essential tool in improving patient care I think they’ll start demanding smart phones (and smart phone apps) in the clinic.

    Thanks for the great discussion!

    Tim Richardson, PT

  9. If current students in DPT programs is anything to go by, I don’t think we need to worry too much about the use of smartphones in the PT profession. My biggest challenge is keeping up with it’s use in the classroom to aid learning. When a student can quickly pull up a Pubmed reference concerning an issue at hand, it keeps you on your toes. Fast fact checkers!

  10. I’m using my iphone clinically to help me with treatments with use of video and pics, but also professionally to grab references/research. I keep up with my work emails on the go. I have used it (music and pics apps) to help cheer up and motivate patients too. I use the navigation to get to pt’s homes. I think these numbers are a little low too. Many PTs who have smartphones are probably not making effective use of them or not know HOW it could help them.

  11. Well considering that I am reading this post and comments on a delayed flight to the CSM conference is a small testament of it’s usefulness for me. I would much rather be reading this than browsing through Sky Mall. I’m using my smart phone in a number of ways. I have used the CORE PT apps, anatomy apps and even an inclinometer app. I was teaching a course several weeks ago, when one of the PTs in the course busted out an inclinometer app so that we could quantify before and after changes during the lab session. A patient once said, “I wish i had a video of that posture training you just taught me”. I pulled out my phone and recorded the training instructions and then immediately emailed the video to him. I learned a new nerve mobilization technique that I found on You Tube while waiting at a doctor’s office. It ended up working great on a patient that week. I also use it quite a bit for business. I can keep in better touch with the office, update the clinic’s facebook and twitter page, and catch up on some light reading before bed. The possibilities are endless!

  12. Eric,

    Smart phones greatest use may be integrating with the clinic EMR to access at least two pieces of patient data (eg: name and age) and link those data to a clinical knowledge base.

    This sort of point-of-care utility will make smart phones indispensable to clinicians.

    The best example (as you probably know) is Treatment Based Classification which uses 4-6 data points and the patient’s name to generate a Medicare compliant plan of care that predicts frequency, duration, expected outcome and treatment allocation.

    The Clinically Relevant iPhone app for the lumbar manipulation rule fits this description except that it doesn’t link to the EMR and it has no print/export function.

    I think when we have this technology in place and PTs can see its usefulness you will see the demand for smart phones in the clinic explode.

    Thank you for the great discussion,

    Tim Richardson, PT

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