APRIL, 2018

Future proofing physiotherapy
Aggregate data
Digital health

In the context of physiotherapy today, we are directly competing in market share against professions such as osteopaths, chiropractors, exercise physiologists, acupuncturists and myotherapists.

As physiotherapists, what intrinsically drives us is how we differentiate ourselves from others as great clinicians but ultimately, our patient’s perception of our professional competencies and capabilities is what matters most to us.

Adding to the complexity of this issue, national healthcare costs are increasing as well as emerging health solutions for the public to choose from. With the increase of both validated and unvalidated digital health solutions driven by consumer demand, we need to think about how this may influence the way we practice moving forward.

Image by Jesper Aggergaard from Unsplash

Regulators and payers are now demanding more from physiotherapists to justify their treatment value with a focus on value based outcomes. A recent example of this is the ReturnToWorkSA Provider Program, which analyses service provider impact results.

This includes reviewing provider star ratings and performance reviews. Star ratings are a measure of the provider’s average return to work outcome achievements, cost and duration of the service.

These reports benchmark and differentiate providers in the industry by performance level. This highlights that if we want to be ahead of our competitors, collecting and using data is no longer a desire but a necessity.

“So how do we future-proof our profession from these pressures and differentiate ourselves in an increasingly competitive market?”

Continuing to conduct high quality clinical research will help justify our approaches however there is a sizable time lag in the publication of the results.

Imagine, if we had access to real-world data that could be retrieved instantaneously as a collective, which would allow us to benchmark our performance among one another and at systems levels.

If we were able to collect this aggregate data and analyse it through advanced data analytics services, we would have new capabilities and insights that will help us be better clinicians and guide us as to where we should strategically head as a profession.

This is a pressing need now – not in a couple of years time. Having such capabilities will enable the physiotherapy profession to potentially leapfrog others, clearly differentiate ourselves in a competitive market, and ensure we continue to provide exceptional value as physiotherapists to the community and safeguard our identity.

With the recent advances in cloud computing and health informatics, data is the new currency in healthcare.

Image by Carlos Muza from Unsplash

By Frame Kings from Unsplash

So what is the APA doing about this?

In July 2017, the APA began a digital health discovery project. One of the key findings of the project was the importance of taking an active, strategic approach to the information and communications platforms used in physiotherapy private practice.

In March 2018, we held a workshop called ‘Ignition’, where attendees included leading APA members, health IT experts, technologists and entrepreneurs, to get feedback and determine whether there is a viable strategy to ignite the ‘launch sequence’ and move to a contemporary platform.

It was clear from this highly successful event that leading members in our profession appreciated that technology applied in physiotherapy is more than just an electronic health record as well as the importance of aggregated data.

We are currently exploring ways that we could analyse data without needing to retain it or breach privacy.

Recently, we have discovered that there is strong promise in the application of business blockchains and distributed ledger technologies to assist in solving these challenges.

© Barry Nguyen, founder of HealthHub.

This article was first published in Australian Physiotherapy Association’s InMotion June 2018 Issue


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