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  • Writer's pictureMatt Cumella, PT, DPT, GCS

Top 5 Trends Where Rehab Meets Health Tech

Physical therapist and inventor Matt Cumella shares his unique point of view at the intersection of rehabilitation, healthcare and age-tech.

As a physical therapist who’s been a part of the health tech startup ecosystem for several years now, I’ve had the privilege of seeing the industry from two different points of view. The way problems and their solutions are framed from a product design perspective on the startup side and comparing that to my time in direct patient care.

In an attempt to put both hats on, these are the five trends I’m most excited about going into 2023. One: Actionable population health analytics

Reducing the burden on systems & staff while maximizing outcomes requires a network of team members, including the patient. The more actionable information can be provided, especially at multiple stakeholder pain points like care transitions and high fall risk scenarios, the better a patient can take ownership of their care and the team can deliver efficiently and effectively. Two: A focus on the aging and disability sectors

Out of the world’s population, 15 percent of individuals have a disability. According to AARP, 19 percent of Americans care for an adult with health or functional needs. Individuals with functional limitations, i.e., difficulty completing tasks of daily living like cooking or dressing, have the highest share of healthcare costs at an average of $21,000 per person annually.

I’ve felt these trends anecdotally in my time in patient care and believe these sectors to be critically underserved. However, now’s the time for this push to solve problems in ways that improve care delivery, safety, and well-being for these populations and the network of support around them. Three: Delivering health in the home at scale

Research has shown a desire to stay in the home for care. In contrast, traditional care models that have more separation between hospital and home have demonstrated a common pain point: safe transition home from hospitalization. What you have is an industry emphasizing delivering health in the home at a large scale.

Rather than an either/or, this is more realistically a conversation of home better complementing hospitalization. Similar to recognizing the complement telehealth plays to in-person care, we’re considering a world of improved care that can happen between hospital & home if we elevate what can be delivered effectively under the patient’s roof. Four: Continuous care modeling

The hour spent with the patient matters much less than all the other hours of the day - that’s what continuous care modeling theorizes. Traditional care models and even telehealth models emphasize information gathered during the point-of-service.

Physical therapists have as much evaluative time with the patient as any practitioner. But how might the scope and quality of evaluative in-person data be limited by being outside the context of the patient’s everyday life? How can we improve context and quality of information in scenarios where right now subjective questioning must be heavily weighed?

There’s a mantra in the rehab world - “Therapeutic progress must translate to functional progress.” Life is lived, and your health & functional status is realized, in the real world. Not in the clinic. Point-of-service episodes are inherently therapeutic and contrived, leaving room for a greater understanding of the actual translation to functional. To complement point-of-care service information with actionable real-world data is a level up. Continuous care modeling means more robust inputs, thus of excellent value for clinicians to make decisions and ultimately opportunities for better care for patients. Five: Not just patient-centric, but “Careholder”-centric

Pain points in healthcare are often solutioned around the patient's POV as the ultimate stakeholder. This is, of course, a bottom line, but there's a "help me to help you" that we're missing if we don't frame concentrically around the network that surrounds the patient. So often, especially in the most complex and difficult-to-manage scenarios like after a fall event or with a difficult diagnosis of a condition like Parkinson's, there's an entire network of stakeholders from loved ones to caregivers to primary providers to specialized providers. I like to refer to them collectively as careholders, i.e., "stakeholders in care."

All careholders have their pain points framed from their point of view AND that of the patient's success. A burnt-out nursing staff member is a problem for that nurse's mental health and patients' outcomes - each must be solved without negatively affecting the other.

The best solutions for the future will factor in the pain points of all careholders. This is where sophisticated design can have the most significant yield.

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