Telehealth has revolutionized the world of healthcare. Learn more in our guide to offering telehealth physical therapy services to your patients.
The COVID-19 pandemic may have shifted telehealth to the forefront of the healthcare industry, but it’s not going away anytime soon. Even during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, a study found that 84% of patients were already very or extremely satisfied with telehealth. As more healthcare providers adopt telehealth, even hands-on services can go virtual — like telehealth physical therapy.
Navigating the world of telehealth options can be a challenging but exciting experience for physical therapists who want to expand their services and help more patients. With a strategic plan in place, you can provide high-quality telehealth physical therapy services that improve accessibility and patient outcomes in your practice.
1. Review any relevant laws and regulations about telehealth physical therapy in your state
Although it can be a time-consuming project, ensuring that you can practice telehealth physical therapy in your state will help you avoid costly legal fees or even losing your license.
Some states explicitly address telehealth options in their physical therapy regulations, while others broadly authorize telehealth for all healthcare professionals. The Center for Connected Health Policy provides comprehensive guides about each state’s telehealth laws, along with information about COVID-19 and other professional requirements.
Although telehealth can be practiced from virtually anywhere, physical therapists must be licensed to practice in the state where their patients are physically located. The PT Compact grants reciprocal license recognition so PTs can provide telehealth physical therapy services across state lines.
The more you rely on technology, the greater the risk of a data breach. When practicing telehealth, PTs still have to meet standards of practice, including abiding by HIPAA and protecting patient privacy. To protect your data and your patients, make sure your software is HIPAA compliant and provides evidence that it complies with HIPAA Privacy, Security and Breach Notification Rules.
2. Offer multiple delivery options for telehealth physical therapy
Sometimes a Zoom call isn’t the best way to provide care to your patients during a virtual appointment. By offering a wide variety of telehealth options, PTs can make telehealth physical therapy accessible to patients who aren’t tech-savvy or don’t have the equipment for live video sessions.
Live video, or synchronous format: This method uses live interaction between a PT and their patient via video conferencing software. Live video is ideal for performing evaluations, overseeing patient exercises, and demonstrating exercises.
Store-and-forward, or asynchronous format: This method is used to transfer pre-recorded materials via a secure electronic connection. Asynchronous telehealth services are typically used to share educational content and instructive videos with patients and transfer protected health information (PHI) to other providers while meeting HIPAA compliance requirements.
Remote patient monitoring (RPM): With this method, PTs can monitor their patients’ health and medical data, so they can identify early warning signs and intervene quickly. RPM is best used to track quantitative stats like steps per day, blood pressure, and blood glucose.
Mobile health (mHealth): With mHealth, providers can offer healthcare services and education via mobile devices like cell phones and tablets. mHealth is ideal for alerting patients about updates to their home exercise program (HEP), appointment reminders, and other time-sensitive information.
Patients might not always feel comfortable receiving treatment via live video conference. As an alternative, you can have a patient record their HEP on video and share it with you to review later. Offering other options for care enables PTs to better support patients and improve patient retention rates.
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3. Designate a specific area for telehealth sessions
Creating an ideal environment for your telehealth appointments minimizes external distractions and technical difficulties so you can have a productive session. Below are some suggestions for your telehealth workspace:
Make sure the space is quiet and well-lit, so your patients can clearly see and hear you during their sessions.
Conduct sessions in a private room with a door to ensure that sensitive patient information remains confidential.
Inform others you are in a meeting, especially if you’re working from your own home, to avoid interruptions.
Connect directly to your internet router or have it nearby to ensure the best possible internet connection during appointments.
Consider sharing a list of pre-appointment recommendations with patients before their sessions. For example, you can suggest that patients use a front light and adjust the orientation, angle, and distance of their device, so they are in frame and you can accurately observe and assess their movements.
4. Use the right software, equipment, and other virtual physical therapy tools
The right equipment can enhance your telehealth physical therapy practice, make care more accessible, and improve patient outcomes. For instance, wearable technology — from body-worn sensors and smart clothing to wearable cameras — allows PTs to track a patient’s movements and performance with less setup and monitoring time.
Asynchronous technology, like a YouTube video of a specific exercise, is another helpful tool for instructing patients on how to perform their HEP. After demonstrating the exercises during the appointment, the PT can share videos of each exercise with the patient, so they have something to reference when practicing their HEP. As with in-person sessions, PTs should also provide specific directions to help patients avoid hurting themselves.
To further reduce the risk of injury for their patients, PTs can leverage newer technology to remotely monitor patient exercises. AI-powered software solutions like Exer Physio collect precise patient performance data and provide in-exercise form feedback for asynchronous HEP completion. PTs can even send daily patient-reported outcome prompts (e.g., “How is your back pain level today on a scale of 1-10?”) to gain further insight into the patient experience.
5. Create a formal agenda for telehealth appointments
Telehealth physical therapy is an unfamiliar experience for many people, particularly new patients, so having a structured plan can help patients feel more comfortable receiving treatment remotely. Just like with in-person sessions, PTs should familiarize themselves with each patient’s file before their appointment and create an agenda to guide their session.
For example, PTs can use Exer Physio to review the last few days of pain levels from their patient’s chart and plan their next session accordingly. By creating a structured plan for each session, PTs can underscore the value of telehealth physical therapy and help patients get the most out of each appointment.
Following up is just as important in telehealth as it is with in-person treatment, if not more so. Digital telehealth platforms enable PTs to deliver HEPs virtually, so their patients always know what exercises to do and when and how to practice their HEP.
6. Collect feedback from patients to improve future sessions
Measuring patient satisfaction is a critical component of any physical therapy practice, particularly when you’re adding a new service like telehealth visits. By gathering feedback from patients, PTs can more accurately evaluate their telehealth services and make specific changes to meet patient expectations.
For instance, if several patients report that they love the telehealth experience but wish it were longer or shorter, you can offer shorter 40-minute sessions or extended 90-minute sessions for different patient preferences. Some patients might share that they struggle to perform certain exercises, so you can offer alternatives that are easier to perform without assistance or equipment.
One common method of surveying patients is Net Promoter Score (NPS). NPS is a simple but highly effective metric that asks respondents to rate the likelihood that they would recommend a company, product, or service to others. NPS surveys collect patient feedback in real-time, allowing you to adjust your services before a minor issue escalates.
Take your practice to the next level with telehealth physical therapy options
Although telehealth is a convenient option for many providers and patients, it cannot replace the hands-on care of an in-person physical therapy session. However, by taking the time to set up everything you need for a successful telehealth physical therapy practice, you can deliver high-quality virtual care that improves accessibility and increases patient adherence.