Getting started: Telehealth and physical therapy
Learn the basic requirements for establishing a tele-physical therapy program.
You may have begun offering physical therapy (PT) services via telehealth at the beginning of the COVID-19 public health emergency. While the urgency of the pandemic forced some telehealth programs to be established quickly, an effective tele-PT program requires careful planning.
In-person physical therapy
Telehealth technology can be used in a variety of ways by physical therapists and their staff.
However, certain aspects of physical therapy are best suited for in-person visits. If a patient requires a direct physical examination, hands-on manual treatment techniques, and/or a full pelvic floor and musculoskeletal examination, including muscle and soft tissue assessment, an in-person appointment may be the best way to deliver care.
Asynchronous physical therapy
A popular form of virtual physical therapy is called asynchronous, or store-and-forward PT. Providers and patients can often communicate online using forms or prerecorded information. Providers later review submitted information to diagnose or treat the issue. Asynchronous telehealth is often used for patient intake or follow-up care.
For example, some organizations offer tools that PTs can use to explain common injuries to patients in easy-to-understand terms with interactive 3-D models, videos and images.
Did you know?
A patient care plan that includes both telehealth and traditional in-person services is known as the hybrid or multi-modal model of care. Any telehealth-focused PT program should consider following a hybrid model of care to provide the best possible patient experience and outcomes.
How to set up a telehealth physical therapy program
Before taking the first steps to create a tele-PT program, it’s important to ask yourself questions about what your healthcare organization is capable of offering.
Our guide to planning your telehealth workflow will give you more information on the business and technology basics. But there are several telehealth considerations specific to physical therapy.
- How will you ensure that your telehealth platform protects patient privacy and is HIPAA compliant?
- Will you need to have multi-state licensing to use telehealth?
- What physical therapy appointments or services will be offered through telehealth?
- Common tele-PT practice areas include:
- Pediatric and school-based therapy
- Sports injuries
- Lower limb injuries
- Lower back pain
- Functional movement screen
- Post-discharge checkups and safety screens
- Prevention of readmission through home safety evaluations and mobility screens
- Common tele-PT practice areas include:
- How will you address potential technology challenges or patients who may need technical assistance?
- What tele-PT services are covered by private insurance companies and government programs, like Medicaid and Medicare, in your state?
- How will you measure staff readiness and willingness to implement physical therapy via telehealth?
- How will you train staff on new technology?
- How will you encourage staff who are reluctant to adopt new technology?
- What organizations can you partner with to provide components of tele-PT or to increase the chance of patient success, such as other health care providers, rehabilitation centers or assisted living facilities?
- In what specific ways will you partner with other organizations?
Recognizing the key role that carepartners have in the stroke healing process, faculty at Emory University’s Division of Physical Therapy are developing innovative rehabilitation approaches that focus on family-centered care using contemporary telehealth technology. Initially developed to support upper extremity rehabilitation, the web-based Carepartner and Collaborative Integrated Therapy (CARE-CITE) intervention has recently expanded to address gait and mobility training. CARE-CITE facilitates engagement of the family within the home environment by tailoring stroke survivor therapy approaches while addressing carepartner needs. Program evaluators are working with carepartners to learn more about their quality of life and family conflict connected to stroke rehabilitation. The program’s goal is to gain a deeper understanding about the care partner’s role in the stroke healing process and to understand the program’s overall impact and effectiveness in stroke recovery.