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Orthopaedic Surgery offering virtual physical therapy

Mar. 18, 2021, 9:26 AM


by Emily Stembridge

The Department of Orthopaedic Surgery has collaborated with Force Therapeutics, an episode-based digital care platform, to offer virtual physical therapy (PT) to patients recovering from surgery. This is an essential option during the pandemic when many patients are limiting their exposure to others.

Gregory Polkowski, MD, MSc

“Virtual physical therapy is the next step for improving and enhancing recovery for our patients,” said Gregory Polkowski, MD, MSc, associate professor in the department, executive medical director for Vanderbilt Orthopaedics and the division chief of Adult Reconstruction.

Through the Force Therapeutics platform, patients are able to complete daily virtual PT exercises with the help of professional video tutorials. Patients are also able to send messages directly to the orthopaedics nursing team if they run into any issues or concerns along the way.

“It’s efficient and easy to use,” Polkowski said. “We think of it as a home base for their rehabilitation after surgery. Many of our patients want to take a lot of ownership in their recovery, and this is the best way for them to safely do that.”

Virtual PT is particularly appealing to patients who undergo same-day surgery, an option that is becoming increasingly common as surgery techniques continue to advance. The majority of Vanderbilt Orthopaedics’ same-day procedures are total joint replacements (TJR) — usually of the hip and knee.

“Total joint replacements have been happening for 40 or 50 years now, and over time they’ve gradually become more refined,” Polkowski said. “As a result, our patients are now able to go home and begin the recovery process the same day of their operation.”

The recent opening of Vanderbilt Health Belle Meade, an outpatient clinic and surgery center, will make TJRs even easier for patients due to its simple layout and convenient location. Polkowski estimates that more than half of the department’s future hip and knee replacements will be performed at Vanderbilt Health Belle Meade.

Polkowski has been working to bring virtual therapy options to VUMC for the past several years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted what a necessity it really is. “It’s even more relevant now,” Polkowski said. “Patients being able to do rehab exercises in the safety of their own homes is tremendously beneficial.”

Virtual PT has proven to be popular with patients across the board. The convenience means Force Therapeutics is sometimes the only PT that patients end up completing — especially those who would otherwise have to arrange for friends or family to drive them to their in-person appointments.

Another benefit is cost effectiveness. “Many people have to pay out-of-pocket or large copays to visit a physical therapy office, often several times a week,” Polkowski said. “Offering a virtual option allows them to get the same level of care for free.”

Polkowski and the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery are eager to continue offering this option to patients. “Incorporating technology into care for our patients helps us customize the post-op rehab experience — patients can do their therapy exercises at whatever time or location is convenient for them on a given day,” Polkowski said. “We are excited to be the first joint replacement program in the region to offer this level of personalized care.”

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