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Is AI a Threat to Physical Therapy?

There is a lot of talk about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the future of the workforce. But is physical therapy really threatened by AI? Let's look at the current uses of AI in PT, and what the opportunities and threats really present.

Current Uses of AI in PT

1. Home Exercise Prescription: There are a few tech companies who have started to use AI to prescribe home exercise programs and track compliance of completion. These programs are popular with large corporations who have implemented them into their health programs. The attraction is the relative low cost of care for musculoskeletal (MSK) disorders. With this software, people can log in, input injury info and the AI will develop an exercise program for the person. The person then will log in and check off each time they complete the program. Early studies have shown that there is some benefit to treating MSK disorders through this method.

2. Wearable Technology with Real-Time Feedback:: Other tech companies have developed wearable technology that allows a patient to wear a device that "speaks" to the computer. The computer will than analyze the patient's movement and give real-time feedback on the movement. The feedback may include changing the motion or intensity. Some early data shows that this type of model helps improve patient engagement in the home exercise program.

3. Basic Injury Diagnosis: Some AIs are currently being used to help diagnosis a specific injury or pathway to healthcare. In these systems, patients are asked a number of questions. As the person answers, the AI directs the next set of questions. This can help lead to a diagnosis or at least a pathway to receive a diagnosis

The Opportunities for AI and PT

Although these new technologies may seem intimidating to the physical therapy industry, they do offer some opportunities that include:

1. Augmentation for home exercise programs

2. Improved outcome scores for diagnoses

3. Increased compliance with home programs

4. Trackability of exercise programs and range of motion measurements

5. Access to care for contagious patients, at risk patients or those who live far away.

The Threats of AI and PT

Despite the benefits that AI could offer the PT industry, there do exist some real threats. These threats include:

1. Job replacement for assistant jobs

2. Quality care replaced by cheaper tech devices

3. Lack of human interaction and development of trusting provider relationships.

4. Insurance companies more likely to pay for tech rather than provider care.

However AI presents itself into the PT industry, it will still be unable to provide needed manual skills suck as joint mobilization, soft tissue massage and other myofascial techniques. But AI still presents an interesting opportunity in the PT world. It remains to be seen how AI will impact the PT industry,


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