Will artificial intelligence and machine learning revolutionise physiotherapy?

This is the second guest post in a series written by Jason Giesbrecht – Physiopedia Plus Instructor, Senior Healthcare Leader and Physiotherapist.

Greetings PhysioFuturists,

Welcome to a future that isn’t a distant dream but an emergent reality. As we traverse the labyrinth of the 21st century, we’re not just walking, but sprinting towards an era rich in technological breakthroughs and digital innovation. At the center of this evolution are Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML), technologies that are carving a new path for all sectors, including healthcare. So, what does this digital evolution imply for physiotherapy? Let’s delve into this fascinating subject, exploring the potential, challenges, and ethical implications of AI and ML in our practice.

Today, AI and ML have transcended their status as mere elements of sci-fi narratives and have become integral components of modern healthcare systems. They’re making strides in enhancing diagnosis, treatment planning, and patient care. One instance of this is the large language model developed by OpenAI, ChatGPT, which is serving as a ‘physiotherapist co-pilot’. It assists with assessments, differential diagnosis, and treatment planning. Many other systems are currently at various stages of development such as Google’s Bard and Anthropic’s Claude 2.

Consider this: An AI system can scrutinize millions of patient records, identifying rehabilitation methods that maximize patient recovery. This doesn’t mean that AI replaces us, the physiotherapists. Instead, it empowers us by amplifying our abilities, equipping us to deliver better, more personalized care.

Now, let’s imagine a future where an AI-powered ‘physio-co-pilot’ becomes an integral part of the rehabilitation team. This intelligent assistant could employ advanced ML algorithms to perform real-time analysis of a patient’s biomechanics during a physiotherapy session. The result? Instantaneous feedback for both the patient and therapist, enhancing the precision of therapeutic exercises, eliminating errors, and accelerating the recovery process.

AI could also play a critical role in designing personalized patient recovery plans. Such plans would leverage AI’s predictive capabilities to foresee possible challenges a patient might encounter during their rehabilitation journey, allowing for proactive amendments to the treatment plan. Imagine the reduction in recovery time, not to mention the prevention of secondary complications.

But that’s not all. The marriage of AI and wearable technology could revolutionize remote patient monitoring. Think of smart wearables that track a patient’s movements during their daily routine, with ML algorithms analyzing the data in real-time. These wearables could alert patients to any deviations from optimal movement patterns and suggest immediate corrections.

Moreover, imagine AI ushering in a new era of preventive physiotherapy. It could predict potential physical issues by interpreting data from wearables and other health parameters, allowing therapists to design preventive strategies and transition physiotherapy from a predominantly reactive practice to a more proactive one.

Now, consider this: AI-powered tele-rehabilitation could address global health inequities. Patients in remote parts of the world could receive top-tier physiotherapy care guided by AI. This could democratize access to physiotherapy, ensuring that quality care is not just a privilege of the few but a right for all.

But, while the future seems promising, it’s essential to consider the challenges of integrating AI and ML into mainstream physiotherapy. Here are a few hurdles we must address:

  • Cost: Developing, implementing, and maintaining AI systems are expensive. How can we ensure that the benefits are not reserved only for those who can afford them?
  • Training: The implementation of AI and ML requires specialized knowledge. Can we provide all physiotherapists, regardless of their location or institution, access to this training?
  • Accessibility: For AI-powered tele-rehabilitation to succeed, stable internet connections and compatible devices are a must. How can we prevent marginalization of certain populations due to these requirements?

Alongside these challenges, we must navigate the ethical implications of using AI and ML in physiotherapy. Questions around privacy, fairness, and patient autonomy must be addressed. Can we ensure robust cybersecurity measures to prevent breaches of confidentiality? How do we balance the benefits of predictive analytics with patients’ rights to make their own health decisions? And most importantly, how do we ensure that these advancements benefit all, not just a privileged few?

Emad Mostaque rightly said, “AI is not going to replace humans, humans with AI will replace humans that don’t use AI.”

With this thought, let’s remember that the future of physiotherapy with AI and ML isn’t just promising – it’s exhilarating. But it’s also a shared responsibility. It calls upon physiotherapists, patients, policymakers, and the public to contribute to this transformation. We all play a role in sculpting this future.

So, how can you be a part of this intelligent evolution of physiotherapy? Can you imagine innovative uses of AI and ML in your practice? Could you participate in research or enroll in AI/ML courses relevant to physiotherapy? Might there be ways for you to influence policy-making in this area? Could you lead a start-up that combines physiotherapy, AI, and ML?

The future of physiotherapy is a vast landscape waiting to be explored and shaped. And as PhysioFuturists, we are the explorers, the innovators, the shapers. Let’s journey together into this exciting future.

Stay tuned for the next post in this series as we uncover the potential of Virtual Reality in physiotherapy. Until then, let’s continue to envision, innovate, and transform.

Jason would love to hear your ideas on this topic, feel free to reach out to him at [email protected] to discuss the topic further; and you can follow him on Twitter and Instagram.