The first step of any exercise in innovation is to deeply understand the nature of the problem you’re trying to solve. When done well, this process of discovery often points to a solution that’s different from what anyone had in mind at the outset. This is the essence of “design thinking,” a core element of our company’s approach to rehabilitation solutions.

When our clients asked us to build a group therapy solution to help with their transition to the Patient-Driven Payment Model, the first question we asked was, “What is it about group therapy that makes it so challenging?”

This simple question launched a months-long deep dive into the industry outlook on group therapy from all relevant perspectives. We interviewed therapists, SNF and therapy executives, directors of rehabilitation and patients. Our conversations consistently pointed to six key challenges, and how we might solve them: 

Challenge 1:  Transporting patients to group in a timely manner

It takes military-level precision to get a group of patients to all consistently arrive at the therapy gym on time, day in and day out. As one therapist put it, “It takes time and resources to make sure patients are available, dressed and ready when needed.”

Why is it so important that all patients arrive on time? The long-held assumption is that one cannot start a group session until all patients are present. But what if this didn’t have to be? What if patients can join and leave the group session at any time, without it disrupting the group?

This question led us to design a group therapy solution for our interactive virtual rehabilitation technology that prioritizes fluidity, allowing patients to join and leave on the fly, relieving the pressure for perfect punctuality.

Challenge 2: Setting up and running the session

Most therapists didn’t go into the profession to be jugglers, but when you’re dealing with several unique personalities, just getting the group to run can be overwhelming. Each patient needs to be instructed on what to do and be given all the materials they need to do it. Plus, when you’re focusing on one patient, everyone else is waiting.

Can this problem be solved with good technology?

This question challenged our design team to create a workflow that allows one therapist to get a group session running in 30 seconds. Simply select a clinical goal, select the program time, and the patients are ready to go.

Challenge 3: Wide functional variability among patients 

For communities with small Medicare Part A caseloads, group therapy often seems out of reach. With so few candidates to choose from, how could there possibly be enough patients at a similar functional level, working on similar goals, to form an appropriate group?

One regional manager asked us to come up with something that caters to a wider range of patient levels. So we did. It ultimately led to a program design that adapts the challenge level to each patients’ ability. As a result, higher-level patients can push to their max, while lower level patients can still engage comfortably and succeed.

Challenge 4: Gaining full alignment and engagement from therapy staff

Given the logistical challenges of running a group, the path of least resistance for many therapists is to stay in familiar territory with one-on-one therapy. If you’re leaving the decision to implement group in the hands of your therapy teams, it will likely mean less group therapy, even if the opportunities are there. And if you’re encouraging them to reach certain group therapy targets, the result is likely to be more grumpy therapists.

Making group therapy easy to set up will help solve the logistical friction, but what about the perception that group therapy is not as effective? 

According to the therapists we spoke to, effective therapy requires individual attention. As one therapist said, “Adjusting adaptive equipment and working on major challenges needs attention. If I don’t put all my focus and attention on each patient, they just sit there.”

To run a group session, therapists need to do things outside of pure skilled intervention. They need to “animate” the group, exercise-by-exercise, making sure that everybody is following along. In this situation, it’s difficult to provide individualized assistance, evaluation, guidance and cueing. 

Is it possible to achieve the therapeutic benefits of individualized therapy, while still running a group? It comes down to a question of roles and workflow.

Jintronix designed a solution that takes on the non-skilled role of providing instruction and motivating the group, so that therapists can focus on walking from patient to patient, providing individualized assistance, guidance, cueing and feedback. 

With more skilled intervention, you can expect better efficacy. With better efficacy, comes stronger engagement from therapy teams.

Challenge 5: Exponential documentation in the same amount of time

Documentation with one patient is enough of a headache, but with group therapy, therapists are required to complete two to six times more documentation in the same amount of time. Point-of-care documentation doesn’t seem like an option, as therapists have enough on their plate with running the group itself. 

By freeing a therapist from running group logistics, the right technology solution can keep point-of-care documentation a valid workflow option.

Challenge 6: Keeping outcomes on par, or better

To confidently increase the use of group therapy, we need to know that patient outcomes will be the same or better. It’s no secret that auditors will be watching to see what providers do, and checking the results that ensue. 

The stakes are high, but so are the opportunities to create successful organizations with great outcomes. 

Your therapists are your most valuable resource.

What if your top priority was ensuring every moment of a therapist’s time is spent on the most valuable thing: applying their skills, experience and judgment toward successful patient outcomes? What if you could create engaging experiences for patients so they reliably push themselves to reach their full potential?

A technologically-driven workflow that gives therapy teams the support they need can do all that and lead to group outcomes on par with — or even better than — individual therapy.

Mark Evin is CEO and founder of Jintronix.