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.

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