During the earliest stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth became a vital resource for therapists. This service allowed them to continue to provide care to their patients, even when they couldn’t meet in person. Clinics were forced to shut their doors. Others had to greatly reduce patient capacity. This means that they needed a solution to maintain patient volume and continuity of care. How could this be done without seeing patients in the office?
This practice allows patients to receive care from the safety of their homes. Providers use it to connect with their patients and maintain the established relationship while abiding by social distancing guidelines. This is a win for both parties.
The benefits of telehealth sessions during the height of the pandemic are obvious. However, you may be less clear on how to incorporate telehealth into your clinic’s practice plan long term.
You need to consider using telehealth beyond the pandemic. It’s an option that opens up your services to many more people.
Continue reading this blog to learn more about telehealth services and:
- Why a hybrid model of in-clinic and telehealth sessions should be part of your clinic’s plan moving forward
- The ways that telehealth services can improve efficiency and grow your business
- How to choose the best telehealth platform for your clinic and your patients
How Telehealth Can Be Used During Social Distancing
Many of the areas of the country are maintaining strict social distancing and indoor capacity restrictions. In these areas, telehealth helps you comply with public health and safety guidelines. It also helps to provide the best care for your patients. Telehealth services provide benefits at all times, but they are especially apparent during a pandemic.
The benefits of telehealth services during social distancing include:
- Protecting patient safety
- Adhering to public safety and health guidelines like social distancing
- Providing care for the elderly and at-risk populations
- Performing pre-operative visits
- Monitoring patients post-surgery and beginning rehabilitation
- Maintaining clinical affiliations for students
Incorporating a mix of virtual and in-person visits prioritizes the safety of your patients. At the same time, it allows you to fill both a clinic schedule and a telehealth schedule.
For example, to have three patient visits in a week, schedule one in the clinic, and the other two virtually. For elderly or at-risk patients, consider in-person visits every couple of weeks as needed. This gives patients peace of mind while keeping them engaged in their rehabilitation and treatment. Changing the setting for the physical therapy session does not change the structure.
Additionally, you can take advantage of telehealth to create flexible work schedules for your therapists.
Some of your therapists may have lost their child care options and need more time at home. Other therapists may be higher risk themselves and want to limit in-person visits with their patients. Telehealth services provide the perfect opportunity to utilize work from home therapists, offering much-needed flexibility to your staff. Plus you’ll maintain clinic volumes.
Lastly, telehealth and virtual care visits allow your clinic to maintain student affiliations.
We all know these affiliations are extremely important. They are a valuable resource for both your clinic and the students. With the right telehealth platform, students can join virtual visits and engage in the appointment, even if they’re not physically in the clinic.
These are some of the telehealth services that you utilize right now. Let’s look at the ways telehealth can help you reach new patients.
Why You Should Incorporate Telehealth into Your Practice Now and Beyond the Pandemic
Telehealth may have helped your clinic maintain the status quo during the pandemic. That’s not a reason to limit the possibility of future growth, though. With a safe and simple telehealth platform, you can advance and grow your practice. Do this by capitalizing on opportunities that didn’t exist before. These are options for you to consider when thinking about telehealth beyond the pandemic and how it applies to your practice.
Hybrid models give you an opportunity to offer hands-on care in the clinic when necessary. They also allow you to continue care with telehealth sessions. Not only do patients get hands-on, one-on-one care while in the clinic, but telehealth gets others involved, too. Through the telehealth platform, physical therapists can teach spouses or caregivers how to supplement and advance your patient’s care.
Yes, it’s convenient. It also means that patients are more likely to complete their sessions and exercises, even without stepping foot into clinics.
You can use telehealth services for four main purposes.
- To increase your patient volumes
- To attract patients who wouldn’t travel for care
- Reduce appointment cancelations
- Offer more in-depth functional analyses
1. Increase Your Clinic Volume
Telehealth should account for 20 percent of your caseload. That’s 20 percent additional volume you may miss out on if you’re not utilizing telehealth sessions. Some patients you can attract with telehealth visits include the following categories.
Patients too busy for physical therapy. Everyone is busy and in a rush. People with nagging injuries may be deterred from seeking care because it will take too much time or effort. Not only do they have the session itself to consider, but also the drive to the clinic (maybe in traffic) and time in the waiting room. When all is said and done, this is a hard sell for someone who may only be able to carve out an hour for treatment. A patient’s time is valuable to them, and it should be to you, too.
By utilizing telehealth, you just made physical therapy a lot more accessible for this patient.
Sure, they may need to go in for the initial assessment and for a session every few weeks, but the majority of the sessions are dictated by their schedule. Telehealth provides the flexibility to have a session wherever they choose from their laptop or smart device.
Niche practices. Patients with chronic or severe pain may be willing to travel for specialized care, but there are certainly patients who are unwilling to do so. Let’s say your clinic has the area’s best pelvic floor disorders specialist. Would patients be willing to travel an hour or more multiple times a week to see this specialist? Maybe.
What if they only needed to travel to the clinic once a week?
With a hybrid model of in-person and virtual visits, patients can commit to fewer in-person sessions. This allows the patient to receive the best possible care from the area’s top specialist. It also eliminates a great deal of the travel burden necessary to see this specialist. This solution may also create an opportunity for patients who were previously unwilling to consider physical therapy treatments. People like options and the option to use telehealth beyond the pandemic is one they will appreciate.
Inclusion in follow-up visits with doctors. How many times have you wished a patient asked a certain question of their provider or wondered why a provider prescribed a certain course of treatment? What if you could have a seat at that follow-up appointment?
You can with telehealth.
Have your patient schedule a session that coincides with their physician’s follow-up. This way, you can participate in the appointment in real-time, rather than have the summary relayed back to you. Being present for this session includes you in your patient’s care. It also helps you to understand the progress they have made. Knowing more information about your patient and their needs helps shape future sessions and treatment options. Being present during the session helps foster an already existing relationship with the doctor or create a new one!
2. Reduce Cancelations and Missed Appointments
Cancelations are frustrating. They result in missed opportunities and scheduling inefficiencies.
Stuck at work? Ride fell through? Weather not safe for travel?
These excuses won’t result in cancelations with telehealth.
From inclement weather to sickness, telehealth services offer a solution for your clinic to keep more patients on the books and reduce cancelations. The next time a big storm is in the forecast, rather than have your staff call to confirm appointments or even cancel outright, pivot to telehealth. Give your patients the opportunity to keep their appointment and conduct it virtually. You’ll reduce cancelations while maintaining continuity of care and ensuring patients are able to receive care, no matter the circumstance. This is especially useful for those that rely on others or public transportation to get to and from your clinic. Eliminate this worry, and you’ll likely eliminate a lot of the uncertainty.
3. Conduct Assessments in Real-Time in Patient’s Environment
Ever wanted to take a tour of a patient’s home to see exactly what safety risks they face during recovery? Would seeing how they sleep or their office setup help you instruct them?
Now you can!
Physical therapists argue the following assessments are actually more beneficial with a virtual visit. A telehealth session allows the therapist to insert themselves into their patient’s environment. This look into a patient’s life offers a first-person account of home safety, work stations, and sleep conditions. This is especially beneficial for a post-op patient where your guidance on their home safety is crucial.
Functional Assessments. From evaluating work stations to sleeping positions, telehealth sessions allow patients to show their therapist the exact home setup.
There are some things you can actually do better with a virtual visit. Physical therapists are able to see a patient’s workstation. This is especially valuable for those working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. An ergonomic assessment of the work from home setup isn’t something all patients consider – but it can be helpful, especially with those tricky back and neck pain patients.
Assessing the sleeping position and bedroom setup is useful, too. Knowing how manypillows patients have, what their beds are made from, and how supportive mattresses are is important.
The way patients sit when driving also impacts their health. Since some people use a telehealth platform on a mobile device, they can show their therapist exactly how they sit. A physical therapist may be able to offer advice about the position of the car seat, the posture a patient has, and overall comfort.
Home safety evaluations are also done via telehealth.
Patients using the platform show therapists stairs, entryways, bathrooms, and furniture. After seeing the inside of the home, a physical therapist makes recommendations for home behaviors and modifications. This is also the perfect opportunity to discuss in-home patient safety and the transition back to home life.
Return to Play Assessments. What better way to test an athlete’s readiness to return, then to see them participate in practice or sport-specific skills? While some skill demonstrations are possible in the clinic, certainly not all of them are.
For example, consider a gymnast, experiencing pain or discomfort when performing a certain skill on the uneven bars. This is a difficult or near impossible exercise to replicate in the clinic. Instead, have your patient begin a virtual visit and perform the skill for you over video.
This allows you to observe your patient’s specific body mechanics and determine modifications or additional exercises necessary to eliminate the pain. Additionally, having a coach present during this session offers expertise on the skill and also ensures any modifications are implemented. Your physical therapy team is likely very skilled at providing care – but an expert in the sport or field is always an asset.
Key Features to Consider When Selecting a Telehealth Platform
Implementing telehealth services into your practice helps you grow your clinic and provide care to previously unreachable patients. From online scheduling, EMR integration, and the ability to have more than two participants, it matters which telehealth platform you choose.
The following are the key features you should consider.
- Ease of access for patient and provider
- Reminder system
- Ability for the patient to request an appointment from website or email
- Flexibility to allow more than two people to join the visit
- EMR integration
- Pay-per-call pricing model
- HIPAA compliance, including signed BAA
Many clinics had to quickly implement telehealth into their practice because of the COVID-19 pandemic. What worked initially might not be the right choice for long-term use. Now, it’s time to choose a platform that grows with your practice.