physiotherapy research technology

Proposal abstract: The use of medical and health-related smartphone apps by South African physiotherapists (a survey)

Abstract for a proposal I submitted earlier this week. This proposal is part of a larger project where we are developing an evaluation tool for decision-making around app use for physiotherapists in clinical practice, determining reliability of a range of pedometer apps on different hardware platforms, and evaluating the information provided by the top exercise-prescription apps. This proposal describes a national survey of South African physiotherapists around their app use in clinical practice. After the project concludes later this year we will prepare a report for physiotherapists interested in using medical and health-related apps as part of their professional practice.

The medical literature now refers to the practice of “prescribing apps” to patients, who monitor their activity and use the resulting data to change their behaviours and help reduce the risks associated with their condition. Mobile apps are expected to play an increasingly important role in health care, where patient data can be shared with health providers and funders to support decision-making at higher levels in the health system. Among physiotherapists there is evidence demonstrating that clinicians are using apps more frequently at the bedside, with the aim of increasing efficiency by enabling more rapid decision-making at the point of care.

Medical and health-related apps are increasing in number and scope on a daily basis. With the proliferation of apps providing medical and health-related information for both professionals and consumers, it is important to determine if these apps can be safely recommended for patients and healthcare professionals. However, there is a very limited evidence-base to inform decision-making when it comes to choosing and using medical and health-related mobile apps as part of clinical practice. In order to begin making informed decisions about how to make effective use of mobile apps in healthcare, there is a need for data describing current uses of apps by physiotherapists in the South African context. This study therefore aims to determine South African physiotherapists’ use of medical and health-related apps as part of their professional practice.


This project makes use of a cross-sectional, descriptive design that aims to provide a snapshot of the profile of medical and health-related app use among South African physiotherapists. A survey will be conducted within this population in order to develop a better understanding of this emerging field of research in the South African physiotherapy context.

The population for the survey will include all South African physiotherapists who are registered with the SASP in 2015. There are currently about 3500 registered physiotherapists with the SASP and all will be invited to participate in the online survey. A self-administered questionnaire was developed using the available literature and will be piloted among 3rd year physiotherapy students in the University of the Western Cape Department of Physiotherapy. The questionnaire includes mostly closed-ended questions that aim to identify how physiotherapists make use of medical and health-related apps, as well as their experiences around the use of those apps as part of their professional practice.

The questionnaire will be administered using Google Forms, and the link to the survey emailed to all qualified physiotherapists who are registered with the South African Society of Physiotherapy. Since the survey will be conducted online, data will automatically be captured in a spreadsheet with no opportunity for errors in the data capturing process. The data will then be downloaded as an Excel spreadsheet.

The data gathered will be analysed using descriptive and inferential statistics. Descriptive data will be presented using frequencies and tables, and inferential statistics will be used to determine relationships between variables. In particular, we will look at the relationships between participant demographic information and trends related to app use.

By Michael Rowe

I'm a lecturer in the Department of Physiotherapy at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa. I'm interested in technology, education and healthcare and look for places where these things meet.