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Why Physical Therapists Can't Be Replaced with AI

Computers are becoming smarter. Just think about a few years back - someone would have said driver-less cars were impossible. But it's coming! Technology and computer artificial intelligence (AI) is growing, and in some cases, faster than humans can keep their jobs. A recent January 2017 report by McKensey Global Institute, stated that roughly half of today's workforce could be automated by 2055.

Until now, it was thought that the healthcare field was safe from AI. But earlier this year, researchers at Georgia Tech started testing Darwin, a robot humanoid, to help children perform physical therapy. What an amazing and scary thought?! But never fear, here is why physical therapists will not be replaced by AI:

1. We use our hands to perform specific mobilization techniques:

Physical therapists are trained to mobilize almost every joint in the body. They learn different levels or amounts of force to use for each joint. Often, during a single treatment, that level needs to be adjusted based on patient feedback, therapists' palpation, and joint play (movement of the joint).

2. Massage therapy is part of our training:

Physical therapists spend many lab hours and clinical rotations learning different types of massage for different types of injuries - scar massage, transverse friction, soft tissue, and myofascial. Again, during a single session, techniques might need to be adjusted based on feedback and the patient's response to the technique. Additionally, a human hand probably feels better on the body as compared to a robot hand!

3. Not every body or injury heals with a protocol:

When is comes to injury, every person looks, feels, and responds differently. In the current treatment paradigm, there is a lot of discussion around protocols or treatment models. Protocols do currently exist for injuries, but they are not a "one-size-fits-all" treatment approach. In fact, there is a push to create clinical treatment models, so that physical therapists can use their reasoning abilities to determine which model is best to use for their patient. Even after choosing a specific protocol or model, adjustments will still be required throughout the rehab process. Physical therapists capabilities in reasoning is an advantage over their robot counterpart.

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