Exercise Software Review Part 1: Physiotec
Exercise software is one of the most popular pieces of software that physiotherapists use on a daily basis in practice and yet there are no reviews of exercise software for physiotherapists that I’ve come across.
With such an important piece of software it’s important to make a choice that fits your practice environment and fits you.
There’s been quite a number of new entrants into the exercise software market and rather than getting bogged in trying to analyze 10-15 different tools, we decided to focus on the most popular desktop web applications that are used in practice.
Now, before I go any further, don’t be offended if your favourite program wasn’t included. Just let me know in the comments and if there’s enough interest we can write a review on that tool as well.
Our focus with these reviews is to tackle the areas that matter to practicing clinicians. To help with this, we’ve broken things down into some key areas:
Onboarding: We’re looking at the experience of when you first sign-up. Is it self-evident as to what to do? How quickly can I start creating exercises?
Search: This ties into the last point, but how accurate and efficient is the search of exercises
HEP Creation: This looks at how everything comes together in creating a home program for your patients including customization, templates, etc.
Content: Next we look at the quality of the exercises, including the visuals, description and options around different media formats
Patient Experience: The other side of the coin is looking at how does the patient experience the program, whether the exercises are printed off, accessed online, etc.
Ease & Speed: There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to put together an exercise program for a patient knowing that every minute that goes by is putting you further behind.
First to the Stand: Physiotec
Physiotec is likely no stranger to many of you. It’s been around for quite a long time. I used Physiotec a few years ago at the clinic and I was eager to see how things have developed over the past couple of years. Thankfully I didn’t need to rely on memory and instead Physiotec provided me with a trial of the software to test things out again.
A Little About Physiotec
Physiotec has been a longstanding HEP exercise program in Canada. They’re 20 years old and they’re headquartered in Montreal, Quebec. They have 10,000 users in Canada and around 40,000 across the globe.
I know that Physiotec is integrated with a number of the leading electronic medical record (EMR) software(e.g Practice Perfect, Clinic Master, etc).
After signing up I was immediately directed to the Physiotec home page. I was surprised to see that there was no welcome screen or introductory feature tour. Physiotec does offer new customers a phone or Skype walk through, but this does require 30 minutes of your time.
The home screen gives you a search bar and a number of different filtering options, including different practice areas along the left hand side of the web browser. Although it can feel a little overwhelming at first, you quickly get used to the layout of the home page.
Searching for exercises is the most frequently performed function of exercise software and probably the first thing you’re going to try.
The home screen of Physiotec provides a variety of search parameters and there are a lot of checkboxes, but are organized by category. The checkboxes may be useful depending on how you use exercise software. I know when I used Physiotec in the clinic, I rarely used the checkboxes, and instead opted for using the search bar almost exclusively. I think there are two types of physiotherapists-ones that will create templates that they can reuse and then there are the lazy ones (like me!) who pretty much always start from scratch to create an exercise program for the patient. This is why to me the search functionality of the program is so important.
One of the benefits of the new version of Physiotec is that as you type search terms it brings up suggestions to choose from.
In looking at Physiotec, the search results are displayed by movement type (extension, adduction, etc). This categorization can be helpful if your brain likes to think in movement planes, but it does make scanning exercises more difficult. The amount of scrolling required to review all the exercises takes more time.
In the example of ‘external rotation’ I’m presented with abduction movements. As you can see only one row of exercises is screen on the screen requiring a fair amount of scrolling to sort through the 261 exercises displayed.
In my opinion the search results display page could be improved from a user experience standpoint. I don’t find the division by movement plane all that useful. In clinical practice I nearly always ignored those headings as I searched through the results. The more that I have to scroll through exercises, the longer it takes me to find the right ones for my patients. Improving the specificity of exercises delivered in the search results would be helpful.
In typing in “external rotation shoulder strength” I get 68 results with the first results on the page showing exercises categorized by abduction, followed by extension then finally external rotation.
Home Exercise Program (HEP) Creation
An important aspect to HEP creation is setting up the parameters for the exercises. With Physiotec, I can simply select the exercises from the search results and press “View Program” and I’m directed to the exercise program detail page. No problems there.
Here you’re able to set the number of sets, repetitions, weight, frequency, hold, tempo and rest. I can then apply those settings to the exercises I’ve selected, unselected or all. I know I’ve had to be careful in the past when creating programs to not accidentally press the wrong button and apply the settings to the wrong exercises.
I can add or create additional exercises from this screen, but unfortunately I’m directed back to the home screen when choosing to add an exercise. If I wanted to add an additional exercise from the search results, I would need to go through the process again. Not good!
The other features of the page are pretty self explanatory. I can select the format of the HEP, I can save, print as well as save this program or a template for future use.
Physiotec reports a database of 10,000 exercises which is a lot. They have done a good job of creating different categories of exercises.
Once a category is selected the home page changes with the associated search parameters. For example, I selected pilates and this came up:
The specific exercise content is high quality in my opinion. The photographs are consistent and of good quality with no distracting backgrounds. I can specify to view photo, line drawing or video. I can easily change the exercise name and description. I can also mirror the exercise image if I’d like it to be reversed.
I would say that some of the exercise descriptions could be a little more clear. For example,for shoulder external rotation:
“Tuck your elbows in by your sides, and position your forearms so that they are perpendicular to your upper arms.
Move your hands out to the side, and as far away from each other as you can, while keeping your elbows in contact with your sides.
To progress, repeat with an elastic.”
I don’t know about you, but this description could be a little more simple.
Getting patients to do their exercises is a challenge and anything that can help increase compliance with a home program is welcomed.
Physiotec provides a lot of different options for printing your exercise programs and includes tracking sheet options as well.
Home Exercise Programs (HEP) can also be accessed by the client on the web or mobile device. This is especially handy if the exercise has a video option for viewing as well.
Home programs can be emailed to the patient which is great especially if you need to put it together the home program after you have seen the patient. The client is provided a link that they can click to access their program. They are provided a username and password, however the link does not require any log-in credentials.
A few items of note:
Recently Physiotec has introduced the ability to do in-clinic tracking of patient exercises by the therapist or support staff. This is called the Flow Sheet.
I know that Physiotec allows you to brand the exercise sheets to include your clinic logo and contact info in the header of the print out. This is something that Physiotec sets up individually for each new organization.
There are descriptions in English, French and Spanish for exercises
Ease & Speed / Efficiencies
Ease and speed of use is a big determining factor to how often you’ll use an exercise program. I know for myself that every additional step (and minute) required to create a HEP will reduce my likelihood of using the software.
The recent improvements to the site have made exercise development a much faster process. With Physiotec, the biggest area for improvement would be their search results. Having to scroll through a long list of exercises is time consuming and in my opinion the movement plane categorization doesn’t help make things faster.
As well, the home screen does require a fair amount of clicking especially if you’re selecting the various categories and practice areas.
Finally, the loading of exercises could be faster. I was often waiting a couple of seconds for exercises to load.
Overall Physiotec is a solid exercise program choice. It made some much needed user experience improvements from the last version. The user interface is a little dated, but overall provides a consistent user experience.
It is my understanding that the current version I evaluated has not yet been rolled out to all customers. Physiotec did inform me that if you’re a current client they will assist you migrate over to the new platform.
Stay tuned for our next review: Simple Set.