Revolutionizing Patient Care: How Electronic Health Records Software is Transforming Physical Therapy

Electronic Health Records (EHR) software enhances patient care by consolidating medical histories, treatment plans, and progress tracking into one accessible system. This integration allows for more personalized treatment, efficient monitoring, and improved collaboration leading to better patient outcomes.

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Revolutionizing Patient Care: How Electronic Health Records Software is Transforming Physical Therapy
5 Min Read July 31st, 2023

Physical therapists have increasingly become vital to health care, particularly in addressing age-related issues. As people age, they may face challenges like reduced mobility, chronic pain, arthritis, and recovery from surgeries like joint replacements. Physical therapists specialize in alleviating these conditions, helping seniors regain strength, balance, and functionality, thereby enhancing their overall quality of life. 

According to the American Physical Therapy Association, more than 20 million adults over the age of 65 receive physical therapy each year. 

Physical therapy aims to help people of all ages improve their quality of life. The following are some of the age brackets that receive physical therapy:

  • 0-17 years old: Children who have experienced injuries, such as sports injuries, or who have developmental disabilities may receive physical therapy.
  • 18-64 years old: Adults who have experienced injuries, such as work-related injuries, or who have chronic conditions, such as arthritis, may receive physical therapy.
  • 65 years and older: Older adults who have experienced injuries, such as falls, or who have chronic conditions, such as osteoporosis, may receive physical therapy.

Reshaping Health Care: Electronic Health Records

Electronic Health Records (EHRs) have reshaped health care, offering a comprehensive, digital snapshot of a patient's health and medical history in one consolidated place. And for physical therapists, EHRs aren't just a conduit for streamlining administrative tasks. They serve as a multidimensional platform that enhances patient outcomes by aligning with the principles and objectives of physical therapy. 

By ensuring seamless EHR integration, physical therapists can benefit from interoperable systems that enhance information sharing and collaboration across different health care platforms, significantly improving the overall quality of patient care.

The heart of the benefits of Electronic Health Records (EHRs) reveals layers that make them a powerful ally for physical therapists. EHRs aid in customizing treatment plans, tracking progress over time, demonstrating exercises through multimedia, and even enabling remote patient monitoring. These functionalities open doors to more efficient and personalized care, enhancing both the therapist's ability to treat and the patient's journey to recovery.

Customizable Templates for Specific Conditions

EHR software tailored for physical therapy often features customizable templates that allow therapists to record condition-specific assessment metrics efficiently. For instance, a template for a post-stroke patient may include metrics for motor strength, balance, gait, and coordination. 

These templates can also incorporate standardized scales and tests relevant to the condition in question. For instance, in the case of Parkinson's disease, the template could incorporate the Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale (UPDRS), a widely recognized instrument utilized for tracking the progressive journey of the disease.

Including such standardized scales and templates ensures that relevant details aren't missed, allowing for a consistent and systematic assessment of patients.

Longitudinal Treatment Tracking

Physical therapy, by nature, is an iterative process, with treatment plans often stretching over weeks or even months. EHRs provide longitudinal treatment tracking, giving therapists an ongoing view of a patient's progress. 

Physical therapists rely heavily on standardized outcome measures to evaluate patients' functionality, pain levels, quality of life, and progress over time. Electronic Health Record software tailored for physical therapy often comes with integrated libraries of standardized outcome measures, ensuring consistency and accuracy in evaluation. These measures can be electronically scored and graphed, allowing for the easy tracking of patients' progress and the effectiveness of treatment plans. 

Tracking key physical therapy metrics this way might not be typically included in a general EHR but are essential for physical therapists to gauge a patient's condition and progress accurately. Visualizing these metrics over time can enhance patient communication, helping them understand their progress and maintain motivation.

Setting and Tracking Functional Goals 

Goal setting is a core aspect of physical therapy, providing motivation and a clear path for both patients and therapists. Therapists can establish, document, and track these functional goals with EHR software. Goals can be broken down into smaller, measurable targets, making it easier for patients to understand their progress and stay engaged in therapy.

Detailed Pain Charting 

With EHRs, physical therapists can leverage detailed pain charting tools that allow patients to describe their pain more accurately. This can include noting the specific location of pain on a digital body map, rating pain intensity on a standardized scale, and detailing pain characteristics (e.g., sharp, dull, intermittent, constant). These details provide a comprehensive view of how a patient's pain changes in response to therapy.

A screenshot of a computer game.  

Muscle Strength and Range of Motion Documentation 

With Electronic Health Record software, muscle strength and range of motion can be precisely documented in each session. A record of manual muscle testing results can reveal how a patient's strength is evolving, helping therapists adjust therapeutic exercises when needed. The range of motion can be recorded using specific degrees, showing gradual improvements as a result of therapy. 'These detailed records can aid therapists in tailoring individualized treatment plans and improving patient outcomes.

Integrative Tools for Postural Analysis and Gait Assessment

Advanced physical therapy EHR systems may also include integrative tools for detailed postural analysis and gait assessments. For instance, some software offers image-uploading capabilities that allow therapists to document and analyze postural anomalies visually. 

Similarly, gait analysis tools can help therapists measure and evaluate aspects like stride length, limb movement, and body symmetry. These tools offer more detailed insights, enhancing the accuracy of assessments.

Multimedia Integration for Exercise Demonstration

An essential part of physical therapy involves demonstrating exercises to patients that they can perform at home. Modern EHRs for physical therapy often include multimedia capabilities, allowing therapists to share videos or diagrams directly with their patients. 

This may include access to comprehensive libraries of exercise demonstrations. These libraries can consist of a broad array of exercises, each with a detailed video demonstration and written instructions. Physical therapists can easily browse these libraries and select suitable exercises for their patients. 

 A person working with an exercise ball. Another person lifting small weights.

By embedding these professional demonstration videos into a patient's electronic health record, therapists can provide clear, easy-to-follow home exercise instructions, increasing the likelihood of patient compliance.

Optimized Scheduling for Recurring Appointments

Physical therapy often requires recurring appointments over an extended period. EHR software with built-in scheduling systems can simplify this process, reducing administrative burdens and minimizing the chances of scheduling errors. 

Automated reminders can also be set to improve adherence to therapy schedules.

Remote Patient Monitoring

Some Electronic Health Record systems enable remote patient monitoring, a significant advantage in physical therapy where patient adherence to at-home exercises can dramatically influence outcomes. 

With wearables or mobile apps integrated with the EHR system, physical therapists can view a patient's daily physical activity data, such as steps taken, calories burned, or specific exercise repetitions performed. This level of monitoring provides a clear picture of the patient's adherence to their prescribed home exercise program. 

A person using a smart watch.

Telehealth Integration

Several EHR software systems now offer integrated telehealth platforms, providing a huge boon for physical therapists. With telehealth, therapists can offer virtual consultations, demonstrate exercises, and monitor patients' progress remotely. This is especially valuable in reaching patients who may be geographically distant, have mobility challenges, or prefer remote sessions due to time constraints.

Telehealth rehabilitation sessions can also be recorded and saved to the EHR, providing a reference for patients when they perform exercises independently.

Parting Words

EHRs can help elevate physical therapy from a discipline bound by manual records and limited monitoring to a highly dynamic discipline enriched by technology. With features designed to track long-term progress, record specific assessment metrics, integrate multimedia for patient instruction, manage recurring appointments, and enable remote patient monitoring, EHRs serve as an indispensable tool for modern physical therapists. 

These capabilities are revolutionizing the way therapists engage with patients, providing opportunities to connect, instruct, and monitor like never before.

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About the Author

Alena Nikuliak is Healthcare IT Consultant and Senior Business Analyst at a software development company.

LTC News Contributor Alena Nikuliak

Alena Nikuliak

Contributor since July 10th, 2023

Editor's Note

Physical therapy plays a vital role in long-term care, particularly for individuals recovering from illness or injury, or simply dealing with the challenges of aging. Targeted exercises and therapy plans can transform lives and improve quality of life.

Quality of life is often tightly linked to mobility and independence. Whether recovering from a stroke, managing arthritis, or working to regain strength after surgery, the goal is to make daily activities less painful and more manageable.

Losing mobility can feel like losing a part of themselves. Tailored exercises to the person's specific condition help regain physical abilities and foster a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem.

In long-term care, physical therapy isn't just about rehabilitation; it's about maintaining and enhancing the quality of life. From improving mobility to alleviating pain, the benefits are vast and impactful. 

Long-Term Care Insurance often serves as a critical financial lifeline for you and your family when you require extended physical therapy, particularly in long-term care facilities. Traditional health insurance and Medicare usually cover physical therapy for a limited number of days or sessions, leaving gaps in the care needed for full recovery or ongoing maintenance.

Long-Term Care Insurance, however, can fill this void, providing benefits that pay for additional therapy beyond what standard insurance plans offer. These benefits ensure you can continue receiving the care necessary to improve your quality of life without financial strain, allowing for a more comprehensive and personalized treatment plan tailored to your specific needs.

Long-Term Care Costs Rising

The rising costs of long-term health care, encompassing care received at home, assisted living communities, or nursing homes, is a vital concern. With an expanding senior population and a growing demand for these services, the financial burden associated with long-term care will escalate further. Without adequate planning, the substantial expenses can swiftly deplete a family's savings, placing immense strain on personal finances, particularly during retirement.

Incorporating Long-Term Care Insurance into comprehensive retirement planning is essential to alleviate potential financial risks. These specialized policies are crafted to shoulder the expenses of long-term care services, offering both a financial buffer and tranquility.

However, the decision to obtain Long-Term Care Insurance should be made promptly and not deferred until your health declines and you are on the brink of needing care. Instead, it's a measure best undertaken proactively, often before retirement, forming a component of a well-considered and forward-thinking financial approach.

Charting a course for the potential health and financial challenges of aging is not merely a precaution—it's a key to unlocking a stable and serene retirement. The planning for long-term care extends beyond the anticipation of health problems; it's an investment in maintaining your desired lifestyle and financial resilience as you enjoy your later years.

Careful planning for long-term care also alleviates the stress and responsibilities that often fall upon family members. When unprepared, a daughter or other close relatives might find themselves in the complex and emotional role of caregivers, facing difficult decisions about liquidating your assets to pay for care, and navigating the selection and management of care services. By thinking ahead, you can ease these burdens and ensure that decisions about your care align with your wishes and financial resources. 

Act Sooner Than Later

With Long-Term Care Insurance, because of the cost of the premiums and underwriting, the sooner you plan, the better. Premiums are based on your age when you obtain coverage, your health, your family history, and the total amount of benefits within the policy. 

The best time to get coverage is in your 40s or 50s. Be sure to speak with a specialist representing all the major insurance companies offering this type of coverage.

Professional Help is Worth It

Using a Long-Term Care Insurance specialist does not cost you anything. Still, you need to find the right professional to help match your age, health, and other factors to find the best coverage at the lowest cost. 

Every insurance company has its specific underwriting guidelines and pricing. An LTC Insurance specialist will shop the top companies and review their underwriting guidelines to provide you with accurate quotes and recommendations for coverage levels. 

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