New technologies are revolutionising the field of rehabilitation and occupational therapy. Apps, video calls, wearable gadgets, robots, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence are making therapy way more personalised and effective. Patients today have access to a wider range of therapy options, including telehealth, which allows them to receive care from the comfort of their own homes and track their progress in real time. Therapists can design custom programs optimised for each person. Treatment is becoming more engaging, convenient and successful thanks to tech.
This article explores the exciting innovations shaping the future of rehab and occupational therapy. Read on to learn how tech is improving life for patients and therapists alike.
Why Rehabilitation Matters
Let’s first talk about why rehabilitation care is so important. When people get hurt or develop conditions that limit their movement or abilities, it can majorly impact their independence and quality of life. Strokes, injuries, and chronic diseases affect mobility in millions of Americans each year.
Occupational therapists help these patients relearn everyday skills so they can care for themselves at home. Therapists also help people get back to hobbies, work, and other activities they enjoy. The goal of rehabilitation is to improve strength, function, and mental health through exercises and practice. Success requires commitment from both patient and therapist.
As the population ages, the demand for rehabilitation services is expected to increase. The number of Americans living with disabilities is expected to rise in coming years. So rehab services will be in high demand. New technologies like occupational therapy software are making therapy more accessible and effective to meet this growing need.
The Problem with Traditional Therapy
Occupational therapy has traditionally relied on office and clinic visits. Patients have to regularly travel to a facility for assessments and exercises with their therapist. But this model has some real downsides. Making frequent in-person visits can be a major hurdle for those with limited mobility or no car. It disrupts their schedule and requires extra help from caregivers.
Many patients find it difficult to maintain motivation for home-based exercises without the direct supervision of a therapist. Without their therapist watching, it’s easy to slack off or get discouraged. Without regular in-person visits, therapists have limited ability to track their patients’ progress and adjust treatment plans accordingly. This makes it hard to adjust treatment plans in a timely way.
Telehealth Makes Therapy More Convenient
One of the most significant advancements in the field of rehabilitation is the use of telehealth. Also called telemedicine, telehealth lets patients attend appointments through video chat. All they need is a phone, computer or tablet with a webcam. This makes care way more convenient for people who can’t easily leave their home.
At the start of the pandemic in 2020, telehealth visits increased by 154%. There are now many studies proving it can work just as well as in-person rehab for many needs. Patients can follow along as their occupational therapist demonstrates exercises through the screen. The therapist can watch patients’ movements and make corrections in real time.
Some key upsides of telehealth for rehab include:
- Patients don’t need to commute to appointments.
- Caregivers don’t need to drive patients or take off work.
- Patients can stick to their normal schedule at home.
- Virtual visits are much cheaper than in a clinic.
- Patients are 30% less likely to return to the hospital when using telehealth.
Wearable Devices Bring Therapy into Daily Life
Wearable devices like smart watches and fitness trackers are also transforming rehab. Patients can wear small sensors on their wrist, arm, ankle or elsewhere on the body. These devices track health metrics 24/7 and upload data to apps on a smartphone or tablet.
Occupational therapists can track patients between visits and get alerts if they miss exercise targets. The therapist can assign different activities based on each patient’s needs and progress. Patients also get immediate feedback on how they’re improving. This motivates them to keep working hard at home.
Studies on wearables reveal some amazing benefits:
- Patients follow prescribed exercises more closely.
- Rehab moves faster, with patients recovering 25% quicker.
- Patients understand their abilities better.
- Therapists can update programs without delay.
Wearable tech allows therapy to become a seamless part of everyday life rather than isolated appointments. Patients can take recovery into their own hands.
Rehabilitation Robots Expand Treatment Options
Certain conditions affecting mobility may also be treated with the help of robots. Rehabilitation robots guide patients’ limbs through repetitive motions to rebuild strength and skills. Demand for these devices is booming – the market reached $1 billion in 2021 and is forecast to hit $2.6 billion by 2026.
Robots assist with therapies in a few key ways:
- Moving the arm, hand, leg in patterns impossible for a therapist alone. This allows higher intensity training.
- Providing real-time feedback on patient progress and areas for improvement.
- Reducing strain on therapists’ bodies from manual techniques.
- Offering consistent reinforcement without fatigue.
Robots aren’t advanced enough to replace human occupational therapists yet. But they are a valuable tool to enhance rehabilitation. Therapists can focus on higher-level interventions while robots automate repetitive drills.
Virtual Reality Opens Up New Possibilities
Virtual reality (VR) is also making big waves in therapy. Rather than viewing flat screens, patients wear special goggles to become immersed in 3D simulated environments. This allows them to safely practise everyday activities in a fun, engaging way.
For example, patients with limited mobility could traverse a virtual grocery store using arm motions that simulate walking. Stroke survivors can practise one-handed tasks in a simulated kitchen. The possibilities are endless. It gives therapists a way to assess patients and measure progress without leaving the clinic.
The global market for VR in healthcare is predicted to reach $7 billion by 2026. Research confirms VR helps reduce pain, improves motor control and thought processing. It also builds confidence for patients anxious about normal activities. VR provides a bridge between rehab exercises and real-world function.
Artificial Intelligence Takes Personalization to the Next Level
Looking even further out, artificial intelligence (AI) could totally redefine rehab’s future. AI refers to computer systems that can analyse data, adapt and make decisions like humans. In healthcare, AI can empower both patients and therapists.
For patients, AI chatbots and apps can provide motivation, coaching and education outside of therapy. They can answer questions, set reminders and provide feedback through voice commands.
For therapists, AI can process patient data to create fully personalised treatment plans. As the tech develops, AI may even detect small improvements invisible to the human eye. It could analyse video of patients’ movements and make adjustments faster than any therapist could alone.
The healthcare AI market is projected to surpass $34 billion by 2025. It will likely take years for AI to transform rehab in this major way. But the possibilities are incredibly exciting.
New technology is changing how occupational therapists help people. Doing therapy online, using apps, and virtual reality can make it easier for patients. Patients can get help without leaving home. Apps and devices let them practise skills. Virtual reality helps make therapy feel real.
Artificial intelligence can help therapists make plans just for each patient. The future looks good! Tech will help therapists improve patients’ skills for daily life. Patients can get the right help for them. Exciting new tech ideas are coming all the time. The future of personalised therapy with tech is just starting!
Frequently Asked Questions
What will therapy be like in the future for kids like me?
In the future, you may do therapy using video chats, apps, virtual reality goggles, and artificial intelligence. This can make therapy more easy.
Will I still see my therapist in person if I use new technology?
Yes, you will still see your therapist in person sometimes if you use new technology. The technology is to make some therapy easier, but your therapist will still meet you face-to-face for important visits. They will make sure you still get good time together.
Will artificial intelligence replace human therapists one day?
Not anytime soon. AI still has limitations. It can help therapists, but people skills are important in therapy. You will have a human therapist for the foreseeable future.
Do I need expensive gadgets for high-tech therapy?
Not always. Lots of new tech for therapy uses smartphones, tablets or computers many people already have. Ask your therapist what low-cost options could help you.
Does using technology mean less time with my therapist?
No, technology should not reduce your overall therapy time. It gives your therapist more ways to engage you between visits. You’ll likely still have regular in-person sessions.