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Digital health isn't a possibility — it's a reality. And members of the physical therapy community can best serve their patients when they understand where things are, where they could be headed, and how PTs and PTAs can leverage what's available to them.

That's the driving force behind "The Digitally Enabled Physical Therapist," an APTA foundational paper aimed at providing the profession with an overview of what digital health technologies are, the industry that drives those technologies, current applications in physical therapy, and future opportunities (and challenges).

The resource is rooted in APTA's clear position on the relationship between digital technologies and the humans using them.

"To be clear, APTA asserts that any service labeled 'physical therapy' that's delivered using digital technologies must be performed by a physical therapist or physical therapist assistant under the PT's supervision, and that digital technologies are tools that augment physical therapist services," APTA states in the introduction to the paper. "They do not and will never substitute for a human clinician."

In addition to basic definitions and an overview of the digital health industry, the paper includes discussions of current applications of digital health care in physical therapy, advantages and cautions for its use, ethical considerations, and the ways state licensure laws and regulations may impact how digital technologies are used.

The resource also includes APTA's position on digital health adopted by the APTA House of Delegates this year, as well as potential action steps. Among those action steps: greater consistency in scope of practice among states, development of relevant clinical practice guidelines, and more education on digital health issues at national, component, and industry conferences.

Building Momentum for Transparency

The foundational paper arrives as APTA's Digital Health Transparency Campaign continues to gain traction with leaders in the profession and those in digital health care who share a commitment to transparency — specifically around the concept that digital physical therapy must be performed or directed by licensed physical therapists only.

Central to APTA's efforts is that entities wishing to join the campaign sign a pledge that acknowledges "physical therapist examination, evaluation, diagnosis, development of a management plan, and intervention shall be represented and reimbursed as 'physical therapy' only when performed by a physical therapist or when selected interventions are performed by a physical therapist assistant under the direction and supervision of a physical therapist.”

In September, APTA announced that nine digital health care companies had signed on to the pledge; by late November, the list had grown to 16: Blue Marble Health, CityPT, Everflex Health, Fourier Intelligence, Hinge Health, IncludeHealth, Limber Health, Medbridge, Netic Health, Omada Health Inc., OneStep Physical Therapy, RecoveryOne, Second Door Health, SWORD Health, VALD, and Vori Health. APTA continues to reach out to more companies to sign the pledge.

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