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The following statement was released today by American Physical Therapy Association President Roger Herr, PT, MPA.

Today, the Peterson Health Technology Institute released the Virtual Musculoskeletal Solutions Health Technology Assessment, reviewing the use of physical therapy through digital health technologies for the treatment and management of musculoskeletal conditions such as chronic low back pain and other nonsurgical conditions. The American Physical Therapy Association commends PHTI's work and its focus on virtual musculoskeletal solutions, as chronic musculoskeletal conditions are one of the areas of excessive cost to the U.S. health care system that would greatly benefit from reform and investment from policymakers and payers. PHTI's report shows that digital health technologies could also improve access and affordability of care. Critically, it also emphasizes the findings that solutions guided by a physical therapist offer the most promise and value and are superior to interventions that do not use a physical therapist.

APTA believes this report is a critical contribution to efforts to advance cost-effective solutions in health care. It validates the idea that early access to and use of physical therapy has the potential to lower costs and improve patient outcomes by engaging the expertise of physical therapists earlier in the episode of care. This provides an alternative to costly imaging studies, procedures, and referrals for conditions that can be managed conservatively, and alleviates other overburdened providers in the health care system.

The biggest opportunity for digital health technologies to augment care is for patients who face barriers to accessing physical therapy. Digital health technologies will not replace in-person care or the value of the physical therapist or physical therapist assistant, but these tools, used appropriately, will augment or enhance currently available models of care delivery.

APTA believes this report can significantly encourage and influence health care policy change. Digital health technologies that physical therapists use to provide services must be integrated and advanced as a medical service, not separated out as a wellness benefit. Keeping these technologies outside of the medical service delivery model adds to health care inequities and prevents most patients from accessing and benefiting from them.

APTA encourages payers and purchasers to seek strategies to reduce the current administrative burdens on in-person care and create equitable payment policies that make care affordable for patients, and to provide fair and sustainable payment to licensed physical therapists who have shown to be indispensable to quality care and positive outcomes.

APTA acknowledges that this report has a few limitations that must be considered. First, this report is limited to virtual physical therapy for musculoskeletal conditions. Care must be taken not to under- or overinterpret this to other conditions, diagnoses, delivery models, and patient populations that physical therapists serve. Also, there was no examination of pre- or post-surgical periods for which physical therapy plays a significant role with musculoskeletal conditions. Lastly, any conditions that have co-contributing diagnoses that are often treated by physical therapists (cancers, infections, primary neurological disorders, etc.) were not evaluated in this study.

This report confirms that physical therapy is an underleveraged, underutilized, and undervalued service in health care. Virtual musculoskeletal solutions, when led by a physical therapist, could drive needed reforms to increase delivery of high-quality, affordable, and accessible care for improved patient health.

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