Background: Musculoskeletal care is now delivered via mobile apps as a health care benefit. Although preliminary evidence shows that the clinical outcomes of mobile musculoskeletal care are comparable with those of in-person care, no research has examined the features of app-based care that secure these outcomes.
Objective: Drawing on the literature around in-person physical therapy, this study examines how patient-provider relationships and program engagement in app-based physical therapy affect clinically meaningful improvements in pain, function, and patient satisfaction. It then evaluates the effects of patient-provider relationships forged through in-app messages or video visits and timely, direct access to care on patients’ engagement in their recovery.
Methods: We conducted an observational, retrospective study of 814 pre- and postsurveyed participants enrolled in a mobile app physical therapy program where physical therapists prescribed workouts, education, and therapeutic activities after a video evaluation from February 2019 to December 2020. We estimated generalized linear models with logit functions to evaluate the effect of program engagement on clinical outcomes, minimal clinically important differences (MCIDs) in pain (ΔVisual Analogue Scale ≤−1.5) and function (ΔPatient Specific Functional Scale ≥1.3), and the effects of patient-provider relationships and clinical outcomes on patient satisfaction—participant reported likelihood to recommend the program (Net Promoter Scores of 9-10). We estimated Poisson generalized linear models to evaluate the effects of stronger patient-provider relationships and timely access to physical therapy within 24 hours on engagement including the number of weekly workouts and weeks in the program.
Results: The odds that participants (N=814) had a pain MCID increased by 13% (odds ratio [OR] 1.13, 95% CI 1.04-1.23; P=.003) with each weekly workout and the odds of a function MCID by 4% (OR 1.04, 95% CI 1.00-1.08; P=.03) with each week in the program. Participants with MCIDs in function and large changes in pain (Δ Visual Analogue Scale ≤−3.5) were 1.85 (95% CI 1.17-2.93; P=.01) and 2.84 times (95% CI 1.68-4.78; P<.001) more satisfied, respectively. Those with video follow-up visits were 2 to 3 times (P=.01) more satisfied. Each physical therapist’s message increased weekly workouts by 11% (OR 1.11, 95% CI 1.07-1.16; P<.001). Video follow-up visits increased weekly workouts by at least 16% (OR 1.16, 95% CI 1.04-1.29; P=.01) and weeks in the program at least 8% (OR 1.08, 95% CI 1.01-1.14; P=.02). Access was associated with a 14% increase (OR 1.14, 95% CI 1.05-1.24; P=.003) in weekly workouts.
Conclusions: Similar to in-person care, program engagement positively affects clinical outcomes, and strong patient-provider relationships positively affect satisfaction. In app-based physical therapy, clinical outcomes positively affect patient satisfaction. Timely access to care and strong patient-provider relationships, particularly those forged through video visits, affect engagement.