AI-Driven Physiotherapy App Reduces Pressure On NHS Amid Covid-19

Millions of NHS patients with muscle and joint pain can now be triaged through a physiotherapy app using conversational artificial intelligence, helping to reduce pressure on the NHS amid Covid-19. Announced today, the partnership between Healthshare and high-growth technology company EQL will enable an additional one million people across Westminster, Oxfordshire and Hull to access Phio. An interactive web-based application, Phio combines pioneering technology with best-in-class clinical oversight, to make the musculoskeletal referral process more efficient for both patients and clinicians.

Before Phio, the typical patient with musculoskeletal pain for example, back pain, would first see a GP, who could refer them to a physiotherapy department, which could then arrange an appointment for the patient to attend a face-to-face assessment with a musculoskeletal physiotherapist. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, someone with musculoskeletal pain could wait up to four months for an assessment, at which exercises are prescribed (NHS England and NHS Improvement, 2019). Making this process more efficient is essential, as early access to physiotherapy and advice expedites recovery, improving the patient’s short-term and long-term health outcomes (Addley, 2010; Boorman, 2009).

Phio delivers digital-first physiotherapy triage for the NHS, covering all types of musculoskeletal pain. This removes the need for a GP appointment, capturing key information so that the patient’s first face-to-face appointment, if clinically appropriate, is with the musculoskeletal physiotherapist. Phio’s conversational artificial intelligence guides patients through an initial assessment, helping clinicians to separate patients into groups of those who need urgent help, those who can self-manage and those who would benefit from a face-to-face appointment. Healthshare, a community-based healthcare provider led by ex-NHS clinicians and working exclusively with the NHS, has responsibility for managing triage of NHS musculoskeletal patients across Westminster, Oxfordshire and Hull – the partnership with EQL transforms this into a digital-first experience, which is particularly pertinent during lockdown.

To contain the spread of coronavirus, it was announced that all non-essential face-to-face outpatient appointments would be postponed across the NHS, starting from the 20th March 2020 and effective for at least three months. During this time, Phio will play an important role in reducing GP appointments related to seeking referral to physiotherapy services. This takes considerable strain off primary care, as 30% of all GP appointments in England relate to musculoskeletal pain (NHS England, 2018).

EQL’s partnership with Healthshare builds on similar partnerships, which will enable a total of 8.4 million patients to access Phio — equating to 12% of the UK population. The team is developing new partnerships, with the ambition that everyone in the UK and beyond will have access to Phio. EQL’s partnerships will transform physiotherapy during and after lockdown, with the contracts signed for a period of years.

Jason Ward, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, EQL says:

“We want to support patient pathways at a time of extreme pressure on the NHS. We believe that digital technology holds the key to supporting patients within their own homes. Since lockdown started, we’ve had a 96% completion rate of Phio triages and 100% of people who used the system said they would recommend it to family and friends. We’re proud that our partnership with Healthshare will enable an additional million people to access this support.”

Peter Grinbergs, Chief Medical Officer and Co-Founder, EQL says:

“As a physiotherapist myself, I know first-hand how debilitating musculoskeletal pain can be for patients. As well as the pain itself, individuals sometimes find that their mental health suffers in the face of longstanding discomfort. We created Phio with the vision of providing best-in-class, at-home triage. Our partnership with Healthshare is an exciting development in our quest for digital-first support, empowering patients to take control of their muscle and joint conditions, whilst alleviating pressure on the NHS at this very busy time.”

Nick McGrath, Joint Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder, Healthshare says:

“At Healthshare, we focus on ‘real world’ innovations linked to improving user engagement and experience, ultimately delivering improved outcomes for our patients and value for our commissioners. The ability to successfully integrate AI technology at the front end of a patient pathway, via the Phio platform, further improves our integrated musculoskeletal and diagnostics offering. The adoption of Phio to support our highly successful Joint Pain Advisory Clinic model of care will allow patients to access our service 24/7 for advice, care and immediate self-management support. We are engaged with NHS England on supporting waiting list backlogs in Orthopaedics, Rheumatology and Pain Management linked to the Covid-19 situation, using our virtual Joint Pain Advisory Clinic model of care with the Phio platform acting as the triage engine which is a very unique proposition.”

Anand Parkunan, Consultant Physiotherapist and Clinical Director, Healthshare says:

“Phio allows us to apply a virtual automated subjective screening and risk stratification of patients and enables us to continue to offer a full MSK Service while also supporting the wider Covid-19 effort.”

Philippa Mardon, Deputy Director of Transformation, Planning and Delivery, Enfield Clinical Commissioning Group, says:

“As a commissioner in the pressurised atmosphere of ensuring high-quality patient services during this Covid-19 period we are looking for providers to work as constructive partners in redesigning and remodelling service provision to ensure long term sustainability. Working with Healthshare has proved to be an excellent and productive partnership, delivering ‘real world’ solutions while maintaining clinical quality with the adoption of Phio being a prime example.”

Dr Sheila Neogi, Senior Partner and GP, Pimlico Health at the Marven Surgery says:

“Healthshare’s adoption of Phio is timely as it will support and complement the Healthshare MSK Service to deliver equitable and easy access to our patients, where staff resources have been redeployed to support the Covid-19 effort.”

Ann, patient user from Hull, says:

“Although sceptical at first, Phio was easy to use and when I was seen by my physiotherapist they had my complete history and an understanding of my problem, which is now fixed!”