PTs are no strangers to digital health apps — and with more than 50% of the U.S. population describing themselves as users of those apps, there's a good chance the same can be said for their patients and clients. But with the number of apps (and the level of hype) increasing every day, how do you know which apps are right for your practice and the people you serve? If you're an APTA member, now there's an answer.
The APTA Digital Health App Formulary, powered by ORCHA, is a recently launched free member benefit that helps take the uncertainty out of finding the right app for the right need.
At its most basic, it's a screening resource that offers up information on apps that have met high standards for safety and effectiveness. But the formulary's usefulness goes beyond a basic list of approved apps; its user interface allows you to search based on a range of conditions, patient populations, and body areas. You can even track and curate the apps you use or recommend to get a better sense of what works for you and your patients over time. The resource also offers folders for apps that can be used in conjunction with remote therapeutic monitoring, something PTs were empowered to bill for under Medicare beginning in 2022.
The formulary is the result of a collaboration between APTA and the Organization for the Review of Health and Care Apps, aka ORCHA, which has been assessing digital health technologies since 2015. ORCHA applies high assessment standards to the apps it reviews and worked with physical therapy subject matter experts to incorporate the specific needs of the profession in its screening process. The result: a collection of digital health apps that providers can trust.
Here's how it works: after setting up an account, begin your search by condition, type of app, affected body area, or any of a number of parameters. Once you select an app review, you'll receive information on what condition the app addresses as well as the cost of the download and whether the app includes in-app purchases.
Even more important, each app in the formulary is accompanied by a Digital Health Assessment Framework score based on a review of 400 criteria across three domains: clinical assurance and safety, data and privacy, and usability and accessibility. To further enrich your understanding of each app, the formulary provides a rating, known as the app's Evidence Standards Framework Level, that correlates the app's target area and associated level of risk with its evidence base — the more specific the condition targeted and the higher the risk, the more evidence is required to meet formulary standards. APTA offers an overview and tutorial on using the formulary available for free at the APTA Learning Center.
The new resource is part of a larger effort by APTA to ensure that the physical therapy profession plays a significant role in the evolution of digital health. In addition to the formulary, APTA is helping to shape the concept of what it means to be a digitally enabled physical therapist, and has established a digital health transparency campaign that urges digital health providers to commit to restricting any offerings described as physical therapy to only those performed or directed by a licensed physical therapist. To date, 25 companies have signed the pledge.