Telehealth Physical Therapy – What’s it all About?


Just a little while ago, I wrote a blog on non-clinical physical therapy jobs, and one of the jobs I talked about was a telehealth physical therapist. This career intrigued me because I wasn’t sure how physical therapy could be delivered virtually since it’s such a hands-on career. So, I decided to look into telehealth physical therapy a bit more, and what I found surprised me! Check it out!

Telehealth Physical Therapy | What You Should Know

telehealth physical therapy 2

What is it?

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) defines telehealth as “the use of electronic communication to remotely provide health care information and services.” Telehealth physical therapy can be delivered in a number of ways, including:

  • Live video. Similar to Skype, this method involves two people (a patient and a provider, for example) communicating in real-time using video chat.
  • Store-and-forward. This method refers to the transfer of health history or medical records, like x-rays, via secure electronic means.
  • Remote patient monitoring (RPM). This method allows a provider to monitor a patient’s healthcare data through electronic means. For example, a provider could monitor a patient’s heart rate or blood pressure from across the country.
  • Mobile health (mHealth). mHealth involves the delivery of healthcare information and/or services through mobile devices. This could be as simple as a patient receiving wellness tips via text message.

How Can PTs Use Telehealth?

It may be difficult to imagine how physical therapists could implement telehealth since their jobs are so hands-on. However, there are a number of ways in which PTs can provide care virtually:

  • Therapeutic exercise. Physical therapists can prescribe patients exercises remotely, and even demonstrate them via video chat.
  • Patient education. Just like an online class, providers can educate patients on their diagnoses virtually. Whether it be through video chat or text message, there are all sorts of ways for physical therapists to help patients understand their diagnoses electronically.
  • Movement screening. Physical therapists can observe a patient’s movements virtually and monitor their progress.

telehealth physical therapy

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Benefits of Telehealth Physical Therapy

It’s important to remember that the point of telehealth physical therapy isn’t to eliminate traditional face-to-face treatment. It’s really about making communication and patient care more flexible. Here are some of the main benefits of¬†telehealth in physical therapy:

  • Improved access to physical therapy. Telehealth gives PTs the ability to provide services in a greater capacity. For example, patients that live in rural areas may not be within driving distance of a physical therapist. So, they may opt for virtual physical therapy so they can receive care in their own homes. Additionally, telehealth allows PTs to expand their reach and provide services beyond their own offices or practices.
  • Better patient outcomes. In an article on ReflexionHealth.com, PT Anang Chokshi notes that patients can gain more autonomy and feel more empowered about their care through telehealth. By performing exercises at home, patients are empowered with “information to know how the exercise helps their overall recovery,” Chokshi says.
  • Easier communication. Whether it’s between patient and provider or two separate providers, telehealth can make consultation between two parties much easier.

Drawbacks of Telehealth Physical Therapy

  • Difficult patient acquisition. Getting patients is arguably the hardest part of being a telehealth physical therapist. Many patients, especially older adults, shy away from teletherapy because they don’t understand it or don’t even know it exists. Likewise, PTs themselves are sometimes uninterested in teletherapy because they don’t know how it works or how to implement it.
  • Uncertainty. Since teletherapy is a relatively new concept, there’s a lot of uncertainty about where it’s going to go. There aren’t many established teletherapy¬†practices yet, so there aren’t a ton of existing opportunities for PTs who want to give teletherapy a try.

What are your thoughts on telehealth physical therapy? Share them with us in the comments below!

Author: Allied Travel Careers

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5 Comments

  1. Interesting!
    I think there is a future of Teletherapy especially for the benefit that the patient gains more autonomy and feels empowered to tackle the struggle themselves. I experience many patients thinking of “I will go to the physiotherapist today, he is going to fix it”, but when you are applying Teletherapy the patient also needs to be ready and educated to belief in their own power to manage the problem with guidance of the PT.
    Another challengeis that many health benefits are also because of a change in environment, what is probably less involved in Teletherapy.
    If we can combine both the patient would get the most out of it.
    Patient Education is most likely the cue to get satisfied results.
    Example Dialogue:
    PT: Where are you going to perform the exercises I have just showed you?
    Patient: In my living room I guess.
    PT: Do you think there would be a better place outside of your house to do them?
    Patient: I am not sure, but there is a park close by. Maybe there, when the weather is good.
    PT: A park sounds perfect. Give it a try!

    Greetings from a PT Student from the Netherlands!

  2. How will the profession compete in this medium when other stakeholders will be just as keen to make a profit, perhaps even out-competing PT? It seems like PT keeps chasing the new, shiny object but never matures.

  3. I truly believe that Telehealth in the PT field can elevate our profession and effectively “meet the patient where they’re at”…

    Burnout is due to a lack of one-on-one care like many of us entered the PT profession to have meaningful and impactful relationships with patients who need our knowledge and services.

    My one question to anyone who believes that we need our hands and that without that component, we are not providing true Physical Therapy…If you aren’t using your assessment skills and an in-depth subjective to gather the information needed prior to deciding what’s needed to help the patient, and you only need your hands to help patients, why didn’t you simply go to massage therapy school?

  4. This is a great post! it was very informative. I enjoyed every moment of reading it. This blog is very useful to me. I really appreciate it! Great content! Keep up the good work.

  5. Thanks for the comment! Stay tuned for more great content in the future!

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