Physical therapists, like most medical professionals, have a common goal of helping their patients improve to the point that the patients no longer need professional care. Patients often present their own greatest challenges to full recovery from an injury or surgery. Compliance with prescribed exercises for patients to do at home between physical therapy visits is a continuing challenge for therapists. When I had complex rotator cuff surgery, my therapist told me I had to hold back and take it easy with the home exercises. He said, “You’re the exact opposite of most of my patients.” When I asked what he meant, he said the majority of his patients seldom or ever do the daily exercises he prescribes for them. He also told me it was a common problem and that patients don’t even apologize. Noncompliant patients just come back for more appointments, prolonging their care and increasing the cost of therapy.
An Israeli company, Steps&, has developed Andy, a smartphone-based virtual assistant app platform specifically for physical therapists to use for patient support and accountability. The platform has two apps: a patient app and a practitioner app. With the practitioner app, the therapist prescribes exercise videos created by rehabilitation specialists at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center. The therapist creates a “personalized regimen for each patient based on ability and goal.” Because the practitioner app is linked to the patient app, the practitioner can also track patient compliance and progress in real-time.
On the patient app Andy uses a chat-like interface to guide patients through the sessions. The exercise videos have verbal instructions for each prescribed exercise which is helpful because many patients say they don’t do their prescribed home exercises because they are not sure how to do them correctly. Andy also helps patients with setting goals and tracking progress. In a way, Andy acts as a therapist surrogate in that the avatar encourages the patient and also sends messages to the therapist about patient progress.
Therapists frustrated by a lack of compliance may find Andy helps with patient accountability.