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Technology and Human Movement

Swisher, Anne K. PT, PhD, CCS

Cardiopulmonary Physical Therapy Journal: April 2016 - Volume 27 - Issue 2 - p 41
doi: 10.1097/CPT.0000000000000030


The Editor declares no conflicts of interest.

I recently returned from a 3-month Fulbright Scholar experience in Ireland. Although what I learned during that time could fill a book, I would like to reflect on just 1 aspect of that experience as it relates to the Journal. Many people have asked me “what was the best part of your experience?” and like any life-changing event, it is very hard to condense into a single “best.” However, my usual response is that being in Ireland (particularly the thriving city of Dublin) was easy as an American. I could immediately communicate in the language, find familiar foods, read street signs, and stay connected through the Internet. That allowed me to go deeper into the uniqueness of the culture and educational system and also caused me to think deeply about myself, my culture, and my educational system as well. I have been changed in all these things.

My specific reflections on technology relate to an appreciation of how much things have changed in my professional lifetime. When I started out as a physical therapist, we wrote in paper charts, wore “beepers” (then the height of high-tech), and learned new material by going to the library, looking in bound journals, or taking notes in face-to-face continuing education classes. Now, journals are available at our fingertips, and we are becoming paperless as we download, make notes, highlight, and save key findings to our laptops or “the cloud.” Clinical practice involves electronic medical documentation often performed from home after “working hours” are over (someone recently referred to medical professionals as “extremely highly paid data entry personnel”), scheduling that is performed on our phones, and constant accessibility to our workplaces. Education now involves viewing webinars and videos and taking online tests. All this is pretty standard practice now, but there will be more challenges in the future to integrate social media and to determine the role of scientific journals in an era when anyone can disseminate findings instantly. How do we as clinicians, researchers, and educators make sense of this and remain faithful to our duty to care for our patients and society?

It is becoming more difficult to define physical therapy. The APTA's most recent vision statement, “transforming society by optimizing movement to improve the human experience,” has challenged my thinking. I have not yet fully understood this vision, but I find the foundation to be movement and how it impacts people. Thus, our practice and education, and the science underpinning both, must relate to movement. Although we can do much of our jobs in the clinic, classroom, or laboratory without being physically present, we cannot stay static. Recently, I had a consultation with a former patient through FaceTime. I found it allowed me to teach her a new means of airway clearance and evaluate her learning from videos I shared. Although we set up this video conference to compensate for being a thousand miles away, I realized it could also work for patients/clients living very nearby. Some elements of movement can be assessed and modified without a physical presence, but clearly, not all. Research is progressing in leaps and bounds in the areas of virtual reality and interactive movement analysis systems that will give us more tools with which to function, however, there is no complete substitute for face-to-face interaction in our profession.

I would like to thank my wonderful colleagues who took on more responsibilities related to the Journal during my absence. Sean Collins was extremely progressive as the acting Editor-in-Chief and has moved the Journal forward. Associate editor John Lowman stepped up to create a new series of articles for 2016 (see his editorial in this issue). Our publisher, Wolters Kluwer, and their wonderful staff made great use of technology for manuscript submissions, reviews, and all the other elements necessary to produce such a high-quality product. Clearly, technology has allowed involvement from all over the world for our Journal. Authors and reviewers are sharing their unique expertise as they bring cultural perspectives from all over the world. In the end, of course, we all define ourselves as physical therapists (or physiotherapists) and that means we focus on human movement. Although we can assess and intervene with “movement” using technology, we cannot forget the “human” part that needs face-to-face connection. This is our unique gift.

© 2016 Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Section, APTA