Exercise Prescription Software, Online or Desktop – Which is best for me?

Whether you are a physical therapist, a physician, athletic trainer, wellness coach or personal trainer, there comes a time when it is obvious that in order to do a proper job, an exercise software system for home exercises or fitness programs is needed. There are many choices available, either for desktop computers or as a cloud based platform. So which one is best for you?

The first step is to making the process easier is to decide which way to go, desktop or online. So just what are the main differences when considering desktop versus online? The differences can be put into three basic categories; Access, technical, and pricing.


Typically with desktop systems the health professional uses the program on a computer in the office (usually a Windows computer operating system). It may be a single computer install or on a network, accessible from multiple computers and often multiple facilities. This means it is restricted to the business office where the computers are located. Rarely will the network extend to the health care professional’s home. And usually it isn’t a problem for many health professionals can use the same program. A laptop does give a bit more options for location and mobility, and this may be fine for a single person business but obviously creates a dilemma if more than one person needs it. For the patient, most desktop systems provide line art or photos either provided on paper or by email.

With a cloud based system access is provided by the internet. Since it is web based you can access anywhere you can get on the internet. And that also means any type of computer or mobile device can be used such as Windows or Mac computers, iPads, Android or other similar tablets. And internet means 24/7 access. And with cloud systems not only can programs provide printed handouts with pictures but videos of the exercises. And the patient can also get their programs on the same mobile devices and even smart phones.


Desktop systems require you to buy and maintain computer hardware and network associated equipment. This includes periodically buying and upgrading both the hardware and the software to run those computers and networks. And this also includes the upgrades needed for the exercise software itself. Since network systems can be complicated, it isn’t uncommon to need technical personnel to oversee these systems. And backup of data to prevent loss of data in the case of a hard drive crash is up to the provider.

With web (cloud) systems the need for expensive hardware, software and network interfaces disappears. And so does the need for technical staff to maintain those systems. Upgrades for the exercise software also are eliminated since any updates or improvements made to the exercise software are on the internet it is instantly available to both the health professional and the patient. Cloud systems have multiple backup systems in place to prevent loss of data.


Desktop exercise programs are usually a onetime purchase price, usually in the $500 to $2000 range, sometimes even more. Some companies may charge annual maintenance or technical support fees. Periodic upgrades will still be needed from time to time for new features or to ensure they still work with newer operating systems. Some desktop systems are all inclusive with content. Others may charge for extra content. If desktop is your choice, be sure to look into ongoing fees and extra content charges when comparing and pricing these programs. In most cases there is never a fee to the patient or client other than what the health professional normally charges for their services. Other costs that need to be considered are initial hardware, hardware maintenance, server costs and fees, and technical staff/service costs.

With web based, there are currently several price models on the market. The most popular is the subscription method. Each health provider (sometimes called user or “seat”) pays either a monthly or yearly fee with no restrictions on number of patients or programs. The more people signed up under the same company, the more discounted the price is per user. There are subscription models that charge a yearly fee and also restrict number of program and/or patients.

Another (and not so common) is the charge per patient. Every time a healthcare professional adds a patient, a fee is charged. While this method seems economical at first, it can become expensive. To understand this better consider a typical subscription model of $100-200/year. Now consider paying $5 per patient. If an average health professional sees 1 new person a week and wants to provide them programs, it is $5/week. In 52 weeks that works out to over $250. So if you see less than 20 people per year this may be the way to go. In all of the above methods, like with the desktop system, the patient does not pay anything extra.

Another method, and the rarest I have seen, is the “make the patient pay” scenario. The healthcare provider requires the patient to pay for getting an exercise prescription on top of the fee the provider is charging them to make the exercise program. It is not hard to see why this is rare.

So while it is not entirely cut and dry, the primary differences come down to several main differences. The desktop is typically a onetime larger fee with periodic but minor upgrade costs, more infrastructure costs of hardware and maintenance, limited access and providing primarily printed handouts. The cloud based systems are ongoing subscription fees but less initial outlay, no need for hardware and technical staff, 24/7 access, mobile access and not only printed handouts but video. I hope this information has provided you some basic guidelines on the differences between desktop and online exercise systems.

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