With advancing technology and our instant access to societal needs, telehealth has become an emerging buzzword in the medical community. Telehealth is most commonly performed by using a HIPPA compliant video chat platform to meet with patients remotely.
Last fall I attended a physical therapy conference and many of the educational programs were geared toward educating physical therapists on how to implement telehealth programs into their practices.
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This is new territory for the medical community and especially for physical therapists as we pride ourselves on our hands on approach to assessment and treatment. Physical therapists at this conference were asking all the same questions that a patient might ask.
- How can this help our patients if we don’t get our hands on our patients?
- How can we objectively assess things like strength and range of motion?
- How are our patients going to perform effective exercise programs without advanced physical therapy equipment and machines?
The answer to these questions was primarily through the value of education. As physical therapists, much of our value comes from what we know and our ability to share that with our patients. We can do a lot for our patients by teaching them about pain management as well as proper dosing of activity, posture, body mechanics, and exercise progressions.
One of the most common questions I get from patients is what should or shouldn’t I do? Will a certain activity make my condition worse? Is it OK to move and be active? We can provide critical guidance to patients even if they are not able to physically come into the office.
Even prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, telehealth was emerging. At our office we already had plans to start a telehealth program this year. We firmly believe that the best and most effective physical therapy treatment occurs in person.
However, telehealth would allow us to supplement a patient’s plan of care when they could not come to an appointment because of transportation issues, inclement weather, or scheduling conflicts. A worldwide pandemic was not one of the reasons we considered when anticipating the need to offer telehealth appointments to our patients.
During the Covid -19 pandemic it became immediately clear that we would need to put our telehealth program into high gear. We limited in-clinic visits to only those cases with the highest need such as post-surgical patients and those in acute pain.
We offered all other patients access to our physical therapists through telehealth appointments. This has allowed us to do our part in protecting our staff and patients while also continuing to provide the care that patients need to stay on track toward their therapy goals. I have enjoyed treating patients through telehealth and have learned much about the benefits of seeing a patient in their home environment.
I look forward to the day that telehealth is a supplement to our patient’s care instead of a primary mode of treatment, but I am thankful that modern technology can be used to help our patients get through these challenging times. ORS will continue to do whatever is needed to meet our community’s physical therapy and wellness needs.
Aaron Holly, MSPT, MTC, is the vice president of professional development and the Okemos clinic director at Orthopaedic Rehab Specialists. Reach him at (517) 220-4540.