APTA Pushes Digital Health Companies to Use “Physical Therapy” in Marketing Materials Only When the Care is Directed by Licensed Physical Therapists

By and on December 22, 2022

On December 2, 2022, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) published a statement concerning a recent decision from UnitedHealthcare and its contractor, Kaia Health, to stop marketing Kaia Health’s services as “physical therapy” given that Kaia Health’s program does not consistently involve licensed physical therapists. As a result, digital health companies that market themselves as providing physical therapy should evaluate their marketing and customer communications to determine whether any revisions are required pursuant to the APTA’s guidance.

The APTA and APTA North Carolina sent a letter to UnitedHealthcare, along with a complaint filed with the North Carolina Board of Physical Therapy Examiners, identifying that the services provided through Kaia Health’s application were not overseen by a licensed physical therapist. UnitedHealthcare subsequently acknowledged that Kaia Health and United Healthcare’s benefits manager, Optum, utilized the phrase “physical therapy” in its marketing materials and that all materials would be revised to remove reference to physical therapy.

The APTA has consistently held that physical therapy, either in person or digitally, must be “performed or directed only by licensed physical therapists.” The APTA has requested that physical therapy providers sign a pledge, which in part acknowledges that the “physical therapist examination, evaluation, diagnosis, development of a management plan, and intervention shall be represented and reimbursed as ‘physical therapy’ only when performed by a physical therapist or when selected interventions are performed by a physical therapist assistant under the direction and supervision of a physical therapist.” Several digital healthcare companies have signed onto the APTA’s pledge.

The complaint filed with the North Carolina Board of Physical Therapy Examiners, along with the APTA’s letter to UnitedHealthcare, are strong indicators that state boards of physical therapy and industry groups are reviewing the marketing and the scope of services offered by virtual physical therapy companies, as well as companies who partner with virtual physical therapy companies.

Businesses offering digital or virtual physical therapy or musculoskeletal services should review their service descriptions and marketing materials and assess whether any updating is required—a task our healthcare team can help with. For assistance or questions, please reach out to your regular McDermott lawyer or contact any of the authors of this article.

Purnima Boominathan
Purnima Boominathan* is an accomplished healthcare and corporate attorney with significant experience as in-house general and senior counsel to venture-backed and public companies providing business-to-business services in the digital health space. She has particular experience facilitating the delivery of telemedicine, at-home laboratory services and in-home healthcare. Read Purnima's full bio.

Lisa Mazur
Lisa Mazur advises health care providers and technology companies on a variety of legal, regulatory and compliance matters with a particular focus on digital health topics, including telehealth, telemedicine, mobile health and consumer wellness. Lisa advises a variety of health care providers and technology companies involved in “digital health,” including assisting clients in developing and implementing telemedicine programs by advising on issues related to professional licensure, scope of practice, informed consent, prescribing and reimbursement. Lisa helps clients identify and understand the relevant legal issues, and develop and implement practical, forward-thinking solutions and strategies that meet the complex and still-evolving digital health regulatory landscape.  Read Lisa Mazur's full bio.




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