The Real Deal: A Look at Virtual Therapy

There’s a good chance you’ve probably had to undergo physical therapy at some point in your life. While usually effective, getting to a physical therapy clinic during a workday isn’t always the easiest task. But suppose you could recover from injury by using a virtual therapist?

Working From Home

If researchers from Duke University are correct, virtual physical therapy might be just as effective as conventional physical therapy. Releasing a report on this topic in late 2018, the Duke team compared the therapeutic results of two groups of participants. One group consisted of 143 people who who underwent total knee replacement, and subsequently were prescribed treatment with a digital physical therapist. The second group featured 144 patients who recovered from surgical procedures with the assistance of traditional physical therapy.

So how does virtual therapy work? In this case, those in the virtual therapy group were treated with the Virtual Exercise Rehabilitation Assistant, or VERA for short. In a nutshell, this digital therapist shows users how to perform specific exercises related to their recovery plans. Those using VERA essentially mimic the exercises shown to them on a screen; as the patient performs the required exercises, the VERA programs send updates to the patient’s physical therapist. 

Upon reviewing the progress of the two groups, the Duke researchers noted that both groups enjoyed similar recoveries following knee surgery.

A Successful Alternative… and Cheaper?

Janet Bettger, Ph.D., associate professor with the Duke Department of Orthopedic Surgery and the study’s lead author, was highly encouraged by VERA’s performance. “In this particular program, the therapists were able to monitor every component of what they prescribed, and that’s a big difference from usual care,” stated Bettger. Furthermore, “[users] felt empowered and built from it. We had a really high retention rate in this study, and that’s a really positive thing.”

As an added benefit, the study further noted that VERA saved its users an average of $2,745 compared to conventional therapy.

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