Effectiveness of telerehabilitation in physical therapy: A rapid overview

Phys Ther. 2021 Feb 9;pzab053. doi: 10.1093/ptj/pzab053. Online ahead of print.


Objective: The purpose of this article was to summarize the available evidence from systematic reviews on telerehabilitation in physical therapy.

Methods: Medline/Pubmed, EMBASE and Cochrane Library databases. In addition, the records in PROSPERO and Epistemonikos and PEDro were consulted. Systematic reviews of different conditions, populations and contexts, where the intervention to be evaluated is telerehabilitation by physical therapy were included. The outcomes were clinical effectiveness depending on specific condition, functionality, quality of life, satisfaction, adherence and safety. Data extraction and risk of bias assessment were carried out by a reviewer with non-independent verification by a second reviewer. The findings are reported qualitatively by tables and figures.

Results: Fifty-three systematic reviews were included of which 17 were assessed as having low risk of bias. Fifteen reviews were on cardiorespiratory rehabilitation, 14 on musculoskeletal conditions and 13 on neurorehabilitation. Other 11 reviews addressed other types of conditions and rehabilitation. Thirteen reviews evaluated with low risk of bias showed results in favor of telerehabilitation versus in-person rehabilitation or no-rehabilitation, while 17 reported no differences between the groups. Thirty-five reviews with unclear or high risk of bias showed mixed results.

Conclusions: Despite the contradictory results, telerehabilitation in physical therapy could be comparable to in-person rehabilitation or better than no-rehabilitation for conditions such as osteoarthritis, low back pain, hip and knee replacement, multiple sclerosis, and also in the context of cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation. It is imperative to conduct better quality clinical trials and systematic reviews.

Impact: Providing with the best available evidence on the effectiveness of telerehabilitation to professionals, mainly physical therapists, will impact the decision-making process and therefore better clinical outcomes for patients, both in these times of covid-19 pandemic and in the future. The identification of research gaps will also contribute to the generation of relevant and novel research questions.

Keywords: Digital Health; Remote Physical Therapy; Telehealth; Telemedicine; Telerehabilitation; e-Health.