Telehealth in Physical Therapy

Sara Beck, SPT ’23

Throughout the Coronavirus pandemic telehealth has proven to be a great means for treating patients. It allows healthcare professionals to provide care to their patients from the comfort and safety of their home, which has been a necessity the last few months. Prior to the pandemic, telehealth was on the rise due to the many benefits of virtual treatment sessions, including increased accessibility and high success rates. We are all learning how to organize virtual meetings for nearly everything, and physical therapy does not have to be any different.

Telehealth increases access for patients to physical therapists in varying specializations, even some that may not be near where they live. For example, a patient who is struggling with vertigo but does not live near a vestibular physical therapist would be able to set up a video call visit with a specialist. This is beneficial for both therapists and patients. Therapists will have an increased patient population, spanning much farther than their immediate surrounding areas. Patients have access to a wider range of physical therapists and are more easily able to find a specialist to treat their specific need. There is also an enormous increase in accessibility for people living in areas with limited physical therapy clinics, meaning a greater number of people would be able to choose physical therapy before other means of treatment.

Building off of limit access to physical therapy, there are many patients who have to commute far distances or get a ride to their PT sessions. This is eliminated with telehealth because it is a patient centered model meaning safety and ease for the patient is the priority. It saves the patient time and allows them to get treatment without having to leave their homes. This is especially important for patients who are unable to drive themselves, not everyone has access to a car which makes getting to an appointment extremely difficult. Cutting out the need for transportation takes stress off the patient.

There are some challenges to telehealth, such as communication between the patient and therapist. But, despite the oddities there has been high success rates with virtual PT visits. According to the APTA’s Choose PT campaign, patients who take part in telehealth actually have a greater likelihood of sticking to their at home program (Crawford). This is because the physical therapist is able to see the patient’s home and make sure they have the materials needed to complete their exercises. Also, they can recruit family members during the at home sessions and teach them how to do partner exercises or watch for correct form. Although the family members may be around the house, the patient will be receiving completely individual care. There are not any other patients on the video call so the therapist is able to focus 100% of their attention on each patient for the entire duration of their visit.

Finally, a physical therapist will have the opportunity to work more closely with other healthcare providers during a telehealth visit. If a patient is going to both PT and OT the two therapists could meet on the call formulate the treatment plan that will best improve the patients functionality. Telehealth has become utilized much more in 2020 due to the state of our country; however, I believe it will remain a popular choice for many of our patients even after the COVID-19 pandemic due to the numerous benefits of virtual visits.

Reference

Crawford, Christina Sue. “6 Reasons to Consider Telehealth Physical Therapy.” American Physical Therapy Association, 8 June 2020, www.choosept.com/resources/detail/6-reasons-to-consider-telehealth-physical-therapy.