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
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 or Zoom, this method involves ta patient and a provider 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.
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.
Telehealth Physical Therapy in the Time of COVID
Telehealth physical therapy is growing in popularity with the spread of COVID-19. Since this very contagious virus requires physical distancing to stop the spread, physical therapy has gone almost entirely telehealth during this time. If there is a way to safely treat the patient without face to face interaction, telehealth will be the answer going forward. Of course there are some instances where physical therapy in person will have to resume between patient and therapist. However, the pandemic most definitely expanded this technology and forced many patients and therapists out of their comfort zone as they adjust to a virtual format.
What are your thoughts on telehealth physical therapy? Share them with us in the comments below!