Recent events have brought telehealth into the spotlight. What was considered fringe medicine just six months ago is now front and center in the fight against COVID-19. From primary care physicians to psychiatrists, telehealth is replacing office visits out of necessity. But is telehealth practical for every form of medicine?
Physical therapy is one area in which the benefits of telehealth seem limited. And yet, PTs are now discovering just how helpful telehealth can be. They are discovering there are lots of things they can do that do not require regular office visits. Telehealth is not a complete replacement for the office, but it still has plenty of potential.
There are multiple ways telehealth can contribute to physical therapy, beginning with live sessions. We normally think of physical therapy as something that has to be provided in person. In some cases, that’s true. For example, a therapist evaluating a patient for the first time really needs that in-person experience to fully understand what is going on.
After the initial visit however, regular visits with the patient can be conducted remotely. Video conferencing allows for face-to-face chats. It allows for demonstrating exercises and therapeutic techniques. It allows the therapist to observe the patient’s physical movement.
At this point it would be helpful to understand that the entirety of telehealth is not encapsulated in video conference calls between therapists and patients. Telehealth also involves other things, like remote patient monitoring. Wearable technology makes remote monitoring very possible these days.
For example, imagine a therapist instructing a patient to walk so many steps per day on the treadmill. A wearable device makes monitoring that activity quite easy. The therapist can keep track of daily walking activity without ever seeing the patient.
Yet another method for implementing telehealth in physical therapy is to produce static content that patients can consume on their own schedules. A therapist wishing to explain how a certain joint performs, for example, could produce video and text content that is stored on a server and accessed by the patient from home.
Static content can include everything from videos to infographics and informational articles. It can be combined with live sessions to educate patients about their therapies. Static content can also be deployed in a Q&A format and combined with a chatbot for answering the questions patients frequently ask.
Lastly is the concept of sharing information via telehealth. This portion of the equation has already been in play for some time now. Physical therapists, hospitals, etc. already share information over computer networks. For example, a hospital might transfer a patient’s health history to a physical therapist in anticipation of therapy beginning shortly.
Information sharing can include delivery of x-rays, therapist notes, and so forth. It can also be deployed to share information with patients. For example, therapists already update patients about changes to their home exercise programs through online means.
More Telehealth Coming Soon
Telehealth is having such a positive impact on physical therapy that it would be no surprise to see it Incorporated more thoroughly in the coming weeks and months. Moreover, a greater focus on telehealth could result in more employers looking for physical therapists with telehealth experience.
According to Health Jobs Nationwide, telehealth experience would give job seekers yet another avenue for getting a foot in the door. Those with established skills could ultimately end up being more valuable as physical therapy makes the transition to the electronic age.
Is telehealth practical for physical therapy? In a word, yes. We are now in the midst of discovering just how practical it is.