Feedback From Telehealth Physical Therapy Patients Encourages Increased Use of This Treatment Option
This article outlining the telehealth physical therapy experience follows the journey of a patient and physical therapist from Agile Virtual Care, an Alliance Physical Therapy company.
The COVID-19 pandemic changed many aspects of life for many people. Children switched from in-class education to remote learning. Those in the workforce deemed “non-essential” made the leap and began working from home. Individuals began relying on Zoom and FaceTime to connect with loved ones. Even the medical field changed, with routine appointments being rescheduled and people staying out of waiting and exam rooms as much as possible.
But, like with everything else, the medical field quickly adapted. Though not invented for the COVID-19 crisis, Telehealth rose in popularity and availability over the last eight months.
Useful for a variety of consultations and treatments, Telehealth is especially useful for physical therapy patients looking for a safe and effective manner to continue movement dysfunction correction and recovery.
The following is the journey of a patient who made the switch to Telehealth and her physical therapist who made the process possible. This success story helps paint Telehealth as an emerging – and lasting – solution for physical therapy patients. Even after the pandemic, virtual healthcare provides a solution that has the potential to benefit thousands of patients.
Read on to find out more about Telehealth physical therapy patient and provider experiences. This information explains how the service provided a benefit to each of them – and can do the same for you.
Kaitlin, a Telehealth Patient Found Success Early
As one of the early adopters of using Telehealth, Kaitlin was understandably nervous. After starting her physical therapy sessions in an on-site clinic, the COVID-19 pandemic forced change. Jill, Kaitlin’s therapist, immediately recommended that she participate in Telehealth sessions for her physical therapy needs, since she was already working from home.
This solution – right off the bat – helped Kaitlin establish and stick to a routine. Not only did she feel the sessions helped her towards her recovery, they were actually easier for her to remain engaged with. Why?
Not having to find time to travel to and from each session helped her integrate each session into her day.
This integration proved valuable to Kaitlin, giving her a chance to complete sessions and additional home exercise between each scheduled appointment leading to increased compliance with her plan of care.
One of the surprising aspects of using Telehealth for Kaitlin was how normal the exercises felt. One concern she had before beginning this option was that the sessions would feel different since they weren’t in-person meetings. Surprisingly, Jill was able to give Kaitlin proper introduction to each exercise, and then watch as she performed them. This visual monitoring allowed for feedback in real time, much like it would have in a clinic. Jill was even able to provide online videos and educational material that helped reinforce each exercise and why it was important for Kaitlin’s recovery.
Both Jill and Kaitlin made adjustments in order to utilize the available equipment (household items) within exercises – but this didn’t cause an issue. In fact, this allowed Kaitlin to complete her home exercise program on her own with ease after training in her living environment. Even though the “hands on” experience wasn’t the same, Kaitlin’s expectations for Telehealth physical therapy were met – and exceeded.
How Does Telehealth Exceed Patient Expectations?
For Kaitlin, any apprehension quickly turned to acceptance and valuable knowledge. It’s important to understand that no two patient experiences with Telehealth are exactly the same. What works for you and your therapist when it comes to setting and meeting goals won’t work for everyone. Making modifications to find paths to success is just as important via Telehealth as it is in person.
Some of the ways that Kaitlin and Jill worked together to meet expectations included:
- Ensuring patient engagement during sessions with one-on-one care
- Thorough demonstration of proper techniques for completing exercises from Jill, and patience from Kaitlin while learning them
- Utilizing technology like emails, text messages, and the Telehealth platform itself for routine check-ins
- Always following up with questions or concerns
- Adapting exercises for the time between Telehealth physical therapy sessions and making modifications when necessary
- Monitoring for progress, setbacks, pain, and other unexpected symptoms throughout the course of treatment
- Encouragement that when Kaitlin was ready to come back to the clinic, that transition could be easily made and met
Telehealth Challenges for Physical Therapy Patients Are Simple to Overcome
Telehealth physical therapy platforms like BetterTelehealth are designed with ease of use in mind. Though Kaitlin quickly understood how beneficial Telehealth was to her recovery, her preconceived notion was that it would be difficult to set up. It wasn’t all easy – but that wasn’t due to the technology behind it.
One of the largest challenges faced involved getting over her initial apprehension with using Telehealth. Once Kaitlin did this, everything changed.
Most Telehealth platforms require patients to create an account or download an application on their computer or phone. For patients who do not complete this step, they lose out on accessing the value of Telehealth.
The BetterTelehealth platform removes those friction points.
It doesn’t require any installed computer software, or downloading additional hardware. Users gain access through a click of a button from an email, text message, or calendar link. Using the platform to connect with Jill became part of Kaitlin’s routine, giving her a sense of familiarity. Believing that Telehealth was as effective as in-clinic care helped Kaitlin set and stick to her goals. As Kaitlin got more comfortable with the virtual appointments, more benefits emerged.
One great aspect of Telehealth for a physical therapy patient is that the sessions gave Kaitlin – and will give you – the chance to ask questions when you have them. Even when unfamiliar with the idea of virtual healthcare, or leading your own sessions, making the most of Telehealth physical therapy isn’t difficult to accomplish.
Do Patients Recommend Telehealth Physical Therapy?
For Kaitlin, the answer is an overwhelming yes. The many benefits of Telehealth outweigh the challenges. This makes it an ideal method for treating injuries at home and continuing with strength training and improving mobility.
Kaitlin also suggests others adopt a hybrid approach when it comes to Telehealth. Initial consultations are sometimes done virtually, but in some cases, attending the first session in person does a great deal of good. Compliance is simple. Telehealth sessions are easily worked into schedules, even for busy individuals. Prioritizing your health doesn’t always take a front seat, but Telehealth allows it to for short periods.
As always, successful medical care relies on both sides finding ways to work together.
That’s where physical therapists like Jill come in.
What Do Physical Therapy Professionals Want Patients to Know?
The first and most important aspect patients need to understand about Telehealth physical therapy sessions is that they are useful in many scenarios. Numerous conditions like neck and back pain, shoulder issues, and numbness in the hands and feet are treated with Telehealth. Other common situations include:
- General deconditioning following surgery or illness
- Strength training
- Increasing range of motion (ROM)
Telehealth can actually provide BETTER treatment in some scenarios. Physical therapists can use Telehealth to perform at home safety evaluations, ergonomic workstation evaluations, and even return to play evaluations of an athlete with their coach inside their practice arena. Telehealth now allows a physical therapist to be in a patient’s back pocket when they are needed most.
Beginning Telehealth Physical Therapy Sessions Always Starts With an Evaluation
Though Kaitlin began her sessions in office, meaning that her initial assessment happened in person, Jill’s use of Telehealth includes virtual evaluations, too. How do these evaluations go?
First, your physical therapist begins with a general assessment. This involves figuring out a patient’s needs, identifying limitations, and choosing exercises that will benefit an individual scenario. Since sessions occur virtually, the therapist is unable to use hands-on techniques. Rather, they rely on visuals. In order for the session to be successful without manual therapy, visuals need to be clear and concise.
Taking the time to complete a thorough evaluation helps both patients and therapists.
This initial evaluation is the first of many evaluations. Throughout your course of treatment, therapists like Jill reassess patient conditions often. This helps to mark progress, find strengths and weaknesses, and provides a chance to make adjustments. The goal of physical therapy is to improve strength and mobility over time, and the corrective exercises provided reflect that. Sometimes, treatment works, and the right plan of care is created from the get-go.
In other cases, change is necessary with updates to the plan of care.
Jill recommends that both therapists and patients be willing to modify their programs often. Not only does this keep patients working hard toward their goals, but it allows them to benefit from the treatment as much as possible.
Benefits of Telehealth Physical Therapy From Patient and Therapist Perspectives
Patients often mark progress by what they feel in their own bodies. This is fine – and it should be done, but progress isn’t always about what you can see or feel. Your continued care depends on what your physical therapist sees and believes as well. The more honest you are about the success (or issues) you experience, the better.
Telehealth physical therapy requires patients and therapists to be – and stay – on the same page.
Open and honest communication between both parties is essential, as are making the most of the following benefits.
- Patients have the opportunity to download exercises onto their mobile devices or computers. This means that they can use them to refer to between sessions. While physical therapists often hand out paperwork demonstrating exercises, videos are much more effective training tools.
- Telehealth physical therapy means patients remain in their homes – and therapists help them work within their surroundings. It’s simple to keep people safe and focused in a clinical setting, but it’s more difficult to help them apply this to everyday life. When treating patients in their homes, day-to-day pain management is simpler.
- Describing functional limitations is one scenario. Seeing them first-hand is another. Along with the above benefit, therapists use Telehealth to advise patients about changes that may benefit them in the long run. This means rearranging the home, using furniture and other household items within the exercise, or even finding new ways to complete recommended exercises.
- Patients aren’t always able to replicate real life scenarios in a clinic. Using the example of lifting a baby or having difficulty reaching something in the cupboard, Jill’s explanations make sense. Seeing how patients like Kaitlin perform these tasks allow for therapists to make modification recommendations.
Patients and Providers Both Experience Challenges With Telehealth at Times
Of course, physical therapists are trained to recognize potential issues and limitations for patients when they are right in front of them. What happens, though, when patients are miles away? Starting Telehealth physical therapy with a new patient is about asking a lot of questions, being very observant and having patience.
But what about the technology aspect?
Learning to use a new software or service isn’t always easy, but Telehealth isn’t meant to be difficult. Simple to fix issues include poor lighting, inefficient camera positioning, Internet connectivity and a learning curve. Adjusting to Telehealth physical therapy takes time – but the end results are worth it.
The first goal is to give patients the best experience possible by utilizing easy to use platforms like BetterTelehealth. The second? Allowing them to manage conditions and pain without needing to rely on physical therapy professionals long term. This means that both sides need to focus and “buy in” to the process.
One side won’t succeed without the other – that’s just how Telehealth physical therapy works. Trusting the process, having patience and a willingness to focus are imperative to this working as a successful treatment option.
Do Physical Therapists Recommend Telehealth Physical Therapy Solutions as an Additional Tool to Treatment?
Like Kaitlin, Jill’s experiences with Telehealth as a physical therapist are positive. No therapist enjoys cancelled appointments, which happened a great deal due to COVID-19, but also commonly happens because of life. Patients get busy. Their cars break down. Schedules change, or childcare falls through. When Telehealth is an option, these are less likely to result in missed sessions.
Telehealth, for many, is an effective and more convenient option to in-person physical therapy. While it can replace in-clinic visits entirely for some people, others choose to use it as a supplemental form of treatment with their face-to-face appointments. As a patient, your best option is something that you have to discuss with your therapist, but finding the right solution is important.
For patients, education is an essential part of physical therapy sessions. Learning to be more functional, feeling better and knowing what works are key. These results are all possible through the use of Telehealth – and technology.
Where to Find Telehealth Physical Therapy
It’s likely that your current physical therapy provider offers the option for Telehealth. However, if you’re unsure, you can use the BetterPT clinic location tool to find out. This tool (or the downloadable BetterPT app) puts you into contact with physical therapy clinics near you. From there, you can schedule a video consultation, learn more about individual clinics and providers, and start your journey toward increased strength and mobility.
Patient or provider, it’s no secret that assessments and progress depend on honesty and openness between both sides. According to physical therapists like Jill, patient feedback is key. This feedback is a starting point for all future recommendations and exercise – and that does not change whether it’s in person or virtual.
You may not have ever used a platform like BetterTelehealth for physical therapy before – like Kaitlin. This is normal. But if this journey makes one thing clear, it’s that Telehealth is a viable option for many physical therapy patients, and it does a great deal of good. Getting better faster in whatever way you can is the goal!
Why wait? Learn more about Telehealth physical therapy today!
Jill Holkeboer, PT is a physical therapist at Agile Virtual Care, an Alliance Physical Therapy Company. She attended Grand Valley State University where she earned her undergraduate and physical therapy degrees. She specializes in outpatient orthopedics and return to work patients and is certified to perform functional capacity evaluations. Jill has 20 years of experience as a licensed Physical Therapist. In her free time, Jill enjoys skiing, camping, and backpacking.