Telehealth is coming to the fore across almost all healthcare disciplines, and physical therapy is no exception. And, with the current COVID-19 epidemic currently sweeping the world, it’s important to explore the possible applications for your physical therapy practice. With many practice owners understandably wary of the seemingly impersonal nature of Telehealth interventions, it’s important to look at the software options and the possible applications for your practice. But it’s going to require a shift in thinking. Rather than approaching Telehealth as an inferior service when compared to in-person treatments, there are indications that telehealth physical therapy may actually offer better care and facilitate improved outcomes for many clients.
New Telehealth technologies are allowing physical therapists to offer high-quality care that is convenient for their clients, and at the same time, improves practice profitability. Telehealth makes it easier to support your clients, implement treatment plans, and follow-up on progress while eliminating the need for frequent in-person appointments.
What are the common telemedicine services that physical therapists can offer?
Although Telehealth can be helpful for onboarding new clients, it’s most often used for follow-ups and monitoring visits. It’s more efficient for both physical therapists and patients, as well as improving the likelihood that a client will complete the treatment plan. It also reduces cancelled appointments, appointment no-shows, and improves patient outcomes. These are some common applications for Telehealth physical therapy services:
Orthopaedic Physical Therapy
Treatment of musculoskeletal conditions and injuries that affect the muscles, bones, joints, ligaments and tendons can be facilitated by Telehealth virtual video-based appointments. During an online appointment, the physical therapist can guide the client through a series of exercises to aid in their recovery from surgery or injury, as well as relieving symptoms of chronic conditions. Exercises will focus on strength, flexibility, balance, and functional mobility. This is especially important after an operation as part of post-hospitalisation care as video visits may eliminate the need for travel at a time when mobility is limited. It also makes it easier and less expensive for patients to remain active participants in their recovery, and will, therefore, lead to improved patient outcomes.
Neurological Physical Therapy
For clients with neurological conditions, ongoing physical therapy is essential. Remote video appointments, in the case of a neurological injury, mean that patients can make consistent progress and regain many functions. Often these improvements wouldn’t be seen without Telehealth as many people are not able to afford, or cannot travel to, physical appointments. Thus clients have access to treatments that will restore their quality of life through an increased ability to perform activities and retain independence.
Geriatric Physical Therapy
For seniors with impaired mobility and physical function, Telehealth physical therapy is often a popular option. Ongoing treatment and management of degenerative conditions via video can help to manage symptoms related to osteoporosis, joint replacements, arthritis, and balance disorders. Video appointments make it easier for patients to stick to their treatment plans by reducing the burden on clients and their caregivers.
Telehealth makes it easier for physical therapists to diagnose and treat sports-related injuries. The technology can also be instrumental in the prevention of injuries through strengthening exercise programs, and regular client check-ins.
Other Physical Therapy Sub-Specialities
There are a number of other sub-specialities that can integrate Telehealth into their treatment offering, including:
- Women’s health;
- Wound management;
- Cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation;
- Home health care.
How does Telehealth physical therapy benefit practices?
From missed appointments to long gaps between follow-up appointments, it’s easy to see how clients are not going to enjoy optimal treatment outcomes. As a physical therapist, you’re doing everything you can to get the best results for your clients, but when logistics and mounting costs mean that the burden on your clients is too big, there’s no way for you to give them what they need if you can’t move beyond in-office sessions.
Online Telehealth visits are a way to turn this around as they make it easier for patients to stay on track with their treatment plan, keep motivated, and stay engaged as they continue to make progress. As the physical therapist, you also have peace of mind that your client is receiving their prescribed care and the follow-up sessions they need.
For physical therapists, Telehealth can:
Telehealth sessions typically take less time than in-office appointments and have the added benefits of reducing the administrative load on the practice. This gives the physical therapist more time to spend directly interacting with their clients, and there is the opportunity to see more patients in a day. This is especially true for clients with strict working hours who may not be able to come to your practice in-person during the day, but could easily take half an hour for an appointment if they don’t have to leave the office.
Physical therapy visits are often longer than other medical disciplines, which increases the chances of no-shows and appointment cancellations. With Telehealth, it’s so much more convenient to make your appointment because transportation, child-care, or work-related issues are far less likely to prevent a client from making their slot.
These efficiencies mean that you can see more patients which facilitates revenue growth without any additional administrative costs.
Think about it, you don’t need to be in the office to see your clients. You could work from home, or check-in with patients while traveling. It also makes it easier to extend your working hours and see clients earlier in the morning, later in the evening, or even on weekends without becoming a workaholic and giving up entirely on the dream of a good work-life balance.
Happier (and Healthier) Patients
For many physical therapists, it’s this point that makes all the difference. As clients become increasingly comfortable with Telehealth sessions, many express a preference for video visits over in-person ones, and in some cases, the availability of Telehealth options may be the deciding factor when selecting a physical therapist.
Telehealth eliminates many of the traditional barriers that clients typically experience, making it much easier to access consistent care which then improves their treatment outcomes.
Broaden Your Target Market
With the advent of Telehealth, physical therapy clinics can no longer consider themselves to be solely local businesses. Proximity ceases to be a factor in the client’s choice of a physical therapist, which expands their options and increases the potential reach of your practice.
This is especially true for clients in rural areas where the distance to a clinic, or an excess demand for physical therapy services, make it difficult to make in-person appointments. But it can be equally true for practitioners that build up a reputation as an expert in a particular area of physical therapy services. With a built-in Telehealth service, they can soon find that they’re getting clients from all around the world.
What are some of the top concerns for physical therapists about offering Telehealth?
It’s all fair and well to implement a Telehealth solution, but is it really the best choice for your clients and your practice? Having done the homework for our integrated Power Diary Telehealth feature, the answer is, unequivocally, yes. These are the concerns that our physical therapy clients have raised:
Question #1 – Will my clients be happy with the quality of the care that a video visit offers? Isn’t it a bit impersonal?
It may seem like a less optimal solution, but studies are showing that up to 97% of patients seen remotely are happy with the level of care and even go as far as to express a preference for a video appointment over an in-person visit. Further research has validated these findings, showing that from a treatment perspective, the outcomes are the same, if not better.
Comparing in-person vs Telehealth physical therapy treatment, there was no significant difference in the provider’s ability to:
- Gather the salient information;
- Accurately diagnose the client;
- Develop a comprehensive treatment plan.
This means that, in essence, video visits offer the same treatment outcomes as in-person care.
Question #2 – We’re not technologically minded (and neither are our clients), is the software difficult to use?
This will depend on the software solution you choose, and how well it integrates with your existing practice management software. The Power Diary Telehealth feature is easy to access and use, and requires no installation (either on your side or the client’s side). There’s also 24/7 online support to assist if you have any issues.
Question #3 – Will we be paid for Telehealth physical therapy appointments (and how)?
Different countries have different regulations about mandated Telehealth reimbursement. In most countries, you will be paid at the same rate as an in-office visit. The rapid spread of COVID-19 has meant that many health insurance providers and other third-party payers are reconsidering their stance on payments for Telehealth appointments.
If you’re using software that integrates with your practice management software or an in-built solution like Power Diary, you should be able to invoice as you usually would and even take payments online.
Question #4 – How does Telehealth technology make sure that sensitive client information remains secure?
Make sure that you choose the right Telehealth technology so that you have a full assurance that your client information is safe and secure. Telehealth software is required to be HIPAA-compliant and, as such, will be encrypted to ensure patient confidentiality. Applications such as Skype, FaceTime, and Zoom are not appropriate for client appointments.
Choosing the best Telehealth software
If you’re already using Power Diary, we’ve got great news for you – everything you need for Telehealth video conferencing is baked into our software, at no extra cost. It’s been built from the ground up, so it’s:
There are a number of other excellent Telehealth solutions too (and many that you should stay well clear of). So, before you choose one, make sure that:
- You can conduct your sessions in real-time which means that you can be reimbursed, and the video quality reflects the in-person experience with no freezing or skipping frames (as long as you have a decent internet connection).
- The software is HIPAA-compliant because sensitive patient information is being exchanged, and you need to have full peace of mind that the connection is secure. Unsecure conferencing platforms such as Skype, FaceTime, and Zoom should not be used for patient appointments.
- You have access to appointment logs; it’s possible that an insurance provider, third party payer or government audit may need records of your interactions (along with all patient, payer, and provider details).
- It integrates with your practice management software; this is going to make it a lot easier to do patient eligibility checks, create and send invoices, take payments, and track any client updates.
- You have access to support, getting up, and running with Telehealth software should be simple to do. But, if you get stuck, it helps if you can pick up the phone and chat with software support, or raise a support ticket. They’re also going to be able to help you with compliance and understanding the specific regulations for your location when it comes to Telehealth procedures.
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Whichever way you look at it, Telehealth for physical therapy is here to stay and looks like it will become much more common and popular with clients. You’d be doing your practice a great disservice if you don’t at least look at the possible applications for your practice because:
- It applies to almost all physical therapy sub-specialty. From paediatric to geriatric physical therapy, most of the disciplines within physical therapy can benefit from the integration of Telehealth options.
- Telehealth physical therapy has the potential to deliver superior outcomes for your clients. The numbers speak for themselves, many of your clients are ready to embrace video technology, and it’s up to you to make it possible for them.
- It has the ability to significantly improve the efficiency and profitability of your practice. You can see more clients without increasing costs, you can be more flexible to meet the needs of your clients, and you can target a broader target market.
But, it’s important to do your homework before you dive in to ensure that you:
- Choose the right software;
- Understand your reimbursement options.
We hope that you’re inspired to explore the option of Telehealth for your physical therapy practice. If you need one more reason, read Andy MacKellar’s case study on how Power Diary’s Telehealth helped him improve client engagement!