While the concept of telehealth may seem new, the truth is that virtual visits – those appointments between patients and their healthcare providers facilitated through smartphones and tablets – have long been in practice before the COVID-19 pandemic forced their rise in popularity. For clinicians and those under their supervision, the convenience of instant access, alongside the comfortability of being able to discuss sensitive medical issues from one’s own home, brings about a plethora of benefits that have to be experienced first-hand to fully be appreciated.
Telehealth represents a major shift in the way that medical care is being delivered and, due to its evidence-backed efficacy, will likely endure as a trusted method for those in need. And although a video call with your family doctor to discuss the sniffles or to get a refill on medication would appear to as the most appropriate of scenarios to be serviced, telehealth is being used successfully in the delivery of physical therapy to those rehabbing musculoskeletal issues.
Telehealth in the Physical Therapy Setting
Just as telehealth itself can seem an atypical approach to medicine, carrying out physical therapy visits exclusively through video calls can feel like a downright head-scratcher. How exactly does a hands-on profession fulfill its obligations when clinician and patient are separated by a screen?
Firstly, not everyone in need of a regimented rehabilitation program will be afforded the opportunity to use telehealth. Only patients who’ve undergone select surgical procedures through which healing is largely dictated by compliance with a supervised course of exercise (rotator cuff repairs, ACL repairs, etc.) or for those whose non-surgical condition has been shown to respond well to such routines (shoulder impingements, patella femoral syndrome, etc.), will be deemed appropriate candidates.
Secondly, the plan of care is created by a licensed physical therapist (PT), oftentimes a doctor in their own right. And even though your PT may live in a completely different state than you and your other providers, the recovery plan that your therapist will prescribe is built around the protocols, timeframes, and milestones that your doctor establishes.
And just how effective is physical therapy telehealth?
Tremendously, if PT Genie patients have anything to say about it. 60% report faster recovery times when compared to traditional in-person therapy, as well as an overall 50% reduction in pain.
Preparing for Telehealth
PT Genie employs a team of professionals dedicated to making your transition into the platform as seamless and uncomplicated as possible. Once your doctor or surgeon has determined that you’re appropriate for physical therapy telehealth, a representative will reach out to begin the onboarding process. This includes checking your insurance to determine any financial
responsibility on your behalf, walking you through downloading the app and setting up your user profile, and addressing any additional questions. From there, your initial meeting with a PT will be scheduled.
The first visit with your PT is typically longer than usual, as it’s during this time your therapist will complete an evaluation. You’ll be asked to perform motions related to the affected area of the body, as well as discuss your current pain levels, lifestyle, and other pertinent information to better understand your condition. The therapist will then build out your exercise routine with guidance from your doctor, while providing education on ways to maximize your sessions. Subsequent visits will likely be shorter in duration, but whether it’s your first video call or your fifteenth, the following tips will ensure that each is as productive as possible:
· Be on time! Just as you wouldn’t show up late to an in-person appointment, neither should you to a virtual one. Try to be present and ready to go at least five minutes before your scheduled time. Should you find yourself running late or need to reschedule, please notify your therapist as soon as possible.
· Utilize a location that is quiet, well-lit, and where you’ll be uninterrupted. Telehealth appointments can be completed anywhere you have internet access, but don’t forget that you’re discussing YOUR personal medical information. Your PT is required to work from a location where others can’t hear or see your records, and you should take similar measures to guarantee that not only is your data protected, but that you can fully engage with the PT.
· Make sure that your tech works. Prior to starting your call, double-check that your device is charged and that your app is currently up to date. Not all app stores automatically update their offerings, so a quick run-through beforehand to certify you’re using the most current version of the app is recommended. Also, your home wi-fi signal is far more secure and constant than cellular data, making it the preferred choice for internet access.
Some patients choose to have a loved one participate in the call with them, and that’s a completely acceptable accommodation. If your guest isn’t on camera during your appointment but is within earshot of the conversation, please inform your therapist at the start of your discussion.
Progressing Through the Plan of Care
After the evaluation, you’ll be supplied with the plan of care, comprised of your exercise sessions and the frequency with which they’re to be performed. Those most apprehensive about the idea of physical therapy telehealth often believe that they simply can’t rehabilitate their condition unless receiving hands-on treatment. Note that many of the same activities that you’d perform in a clinic can be replicated at home through the use of readily available, inexpensive equipment: pulleys, resistance bands, and common household items that most people already have. Traditional, in-person therapy visits are typically scheduled 1-2 times a week, generally for assessment of your progress and to offer feedback. The difference between a successful rehab and one that produces suboptimal results isn’t related to how you see the PT, but how closely you follow their guidance and complete the prescribed routines.
Another point of contention for some is the perceived lack of accountability with a tech-based program. PT Genie’s platform is fully capable of tracking patient compliance not only with completing daily sessions but also doing the specific exercises within. If sessions are missed or certain activities are skipped over, the supervising therapist can help you navigate any barriers you’re encountering. And the PT Genie app is built using dynamic tracking tools that leverage your smart device’s cameras, capable of measuring body positioning and range of motion. That data is relayed back to your care team and used to determine how well you’re advancing toward your therapy goals.
PT Genie employs licensed athletic trainers (ATCs) and physical therapist assistants (PTAs), whose working knowledge of musculoskeletal issues is similar to that of a physical therapist and who are readily available to furnish assistance in-between your PT visits. However, these professionals work under the supervision of a PT, the professional ultimately responsible for guiding you through your rehab. Your exercise program will need to be updated frequently to ensure continual progress, and as such, regular meetings with your PT are a necessity. Your plan of care cannot be updated or modified in any capacity without the PT’s consent. Therefore, telehealth appointments with your PT should not be missed.
PT on Your Terms
Physical therapy telehealth can seem an unconventional way to recover from a shoulder replacement or ankle fracture, and if the idea of chatting with your therapy team through a screen seems odd, you’re not alone. But volumes of real-world evidence support the methodology, so much so that many insurance companies fully reimburse for the delivery of virtual services. Clinicians enjoy the ability to increase the breadth of who they’re able to provide services to, including seeing those in rural areas or who otherwise find commuting to an office challenging. Patients appreciate not having to juggle their schedules and commit large portions of their day to keeping medical appointments. Telehealth is a safe, respected, and effective way to reap all the benefits of a prescribed course of physical therapy, from the comfort of your own home.