A few weeks ago, I took part in a panel discussion on the theme of ‘The university is dead: Long live the university’.
The keynote presenter – the very brilliant Professor Jane Gilbert – talked about how technology is going to disrupt every aspect of our lives in the future. Ever since the talk I’ve been pondering how much technology will disrupt the kinds of physiotherapy people might need in the future.
Here are just three examples of disruptive technologies and ways of thinking and working that are due for a shakeup in the very near future:
- Fact-based technical subjects, like the kinds of science-bases subjects commonly thought of as ‘core’ subject in physiotherapy (anatomy, physiology, pathology, biomechanics, etc.), learnt through interactive apps rather than traditional classroom lectures. Implications: We no longer need those people to teach these subjects, and the way we engage with students around these subjects radically changes.
- Digitisation of learning that once took place on university campuses, now taking place anywhere, anytime. Implications: The ‘massification’ of higher education opens access to a much broader audience and potentially democratises access, but makes person-to-person contact much more difficult. Added to this, universities are having to ced their role as institutions that accredit learning to third-party web-based systems like the Open Badges movement. Implications: Physiotherapy ‘faculty’ cease to be located around a central geographical location and universities lose their monopoly and control over curricula.
- Advanced machine technologies replace workers in traditional jobs. Robots and AI bots do most of the productive labour, including transportation, food production and distribution, consumer services, third-party verification of financial and legal contracts, care support work, teaching and learning, etc., proliferate. Less people are needed to work, so people have more free time and income comes from things like a universal basic income – paid for by new tax systems that are no longer work-based. Implications: Much of the traditional ‘labour’ associated with physiotherapy, including assessment, diagnosis, routine care (exercise prescription, activity monitoring, standardised treatment), is given to units that require no training and only require periodic updates. Plus, the notion of ‘dependency’ disappears – having a profound effect on how we view the elderly, for example – because our economy is no longer based on the importance of years spent in work.
Many traditional jobs – like journalism – are falling by the wayside, and there are some predictions that up to half of the work of lawyers, doctors, bankers, market gardeners, librarians, and shopkeepers will be handed over to digital technologies in the next few years.
There is almost no debate about these things in physiotherapy. It is possible that some aspects of our practice will be retained – perhaps the things that we think require the most human-to-human engagement. So the question is what aspects of physiotherapy do we think we will lose in the not-too-distant future, and should we not, therefore, be preparing now for the change that is to come?