Telehealth physical therapy has seen a steady rise in popularity over the past few years, and its use was greatly accelerated with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most clinicians in the healthcare space have at least heard of telehealth and many may have even implemented some form of it in their own practice already. And while it is growing in popularity, you may still have a few reservations about things like efficacy, logistics, and the quality of the patient experience.
In this article, we’re going to address these concerns and answer some common questions about telehealth physical therapy, including:
- What exactly is telehealth for physical therapy and how does it work?
- How does telehealth physical therapy compare with traditional in-person physical therapy?
- What are the benefits and concerns that may come along with this form of treatment?
What is Telehealth and How Does it Work?
Telehealth is a form of treatment that utilizes technology to connect patients with physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech pathologists, without the patient and therapist needing to be in the same physical location. The exact technical configuration varies from therapist to therapist but the general setup involves both the therapist and the patient utilizing some form of camera and audio recording equipment to facilitate the treatment.
The Benefits of Using Telehealth Physical Therapy For Your Patients
Telehealth for physical therapy brings a lot of the same benefits to the table that telehealth brings to other areas of the medical industry. The biggest and most obvious of these benefits is access.
Many patients face challenges when it comes to getting to an in-person physical therapy appointment. These include logistical factors like being homebound, a lack of transportation, distance, impacts on their work schedules, or limited scheduling availability. Additionally, many patients feel less comfortable meeting in person or may struggle with psychological factors such as body-image issues, unfamiliarity with the process, discomfort with new things, or understandable COVID-19 safety concerns.
But by being able to meet with a provider by simply turning on a camera in the comfort of their own home, a lot of these issues are instantly mitigated in a convenient way.
The Benefits of Telehealth PT for Care Providers
Not only does telehealth physical therapy deliver benefits for patients, but it also carries plenty of benefits for care providers as well.
First, it allows providers to be more efficient in their scheduling. Instead of dealing with issues of patients being late because of traffic or weather or the provider having to drive long distances to provide on-site care, travel time is cut to zero. Additionally, if a patient no-shows or cancels, the opportunity to schedule a replacement on short notice may be more effective.
Second, the conveniences that come with telehealth are extremely helpful. When patients are happier and have more options, they’re more likely to complete care. And when patients complete care, it means better patient outcomes and a stronger bottom line.
Third, it provides unique opportunities to engage in new ways. For example, if you have patients that still prefer in-person care, you have the opportunity to offer ‘booster sessions’ in between regularly scheduled in-person sessions. It’s a chance to augment care and better engage with patients for better outcomes.
Concerns with Using Telehealth for Physical Therapy
While many would agree that the benefits outweigh any concerns when it comes to telehealth physical therapy, this discussion would be incomplete without visiting these potential drawbacks.
The most important question and concern people have is the efficacy and effectiveness of the treatment. If it’s not as effective as in-person therapy, is it really worth it? Well, the answer would be no, it wouldn’t be worth it.
Thankfully, that’s not a concern that we need to worry about. According to a 2020 study on telehealth conducted by Focus On Therapeutic Outcomes (FOTO), telehealth is as effective in rehab therapy as in-person care. In fact, the study suggests that telehealth may promote greater efficiency of care by delivering comparable results in fewer visits.
Additionally, concerns about costs must be addressed. And while this certainly would be a major concern a decade ago, the commoditization of streaming technology has significantly lowered the costs for both providers and patients. Yes, the upfront costs are still there, but the economic spreading effect lowers the impact over time and turns these upfront costs into savings.
Should You Consider Telehealth Physical Therapy for Your Practice?
While this is a decision best made on a case-by-case basis, offering patients more convenience and flexibility at a better price most certainly is a good thing. And with the knowledge that telehealth physical therapy can offer similar results in potentially fewer sessions, it certainly merits further exploration.
And an important closing thought to keep in mind is that telehealth doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game. The aforementioned data study showed that benefits were present in cases where only some degree of telehealth was utilized. What that means for you is that you can dip your toe in the shallow end with telehealth. It doesn’t have to be a headfirst jump off the high dive to start testing and seeing real results.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can start implementing the benefits of telehealth into your practice, we’d invite you to reach out today and speak with a member of our team.
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