Understanding Security, Compliance and Liability Issues When Providing Telehealth Physical Therapy.
This article about security, compliance and liability issues that physical therapists may face when utilizing telehealth features information from a webinar hosted William G. F. Sullivan, Esq., EVP at CM&F Group, Inc. and Marla Ranieri, PT, DPT, OCS, Chief Development Officer at BetterPT
As a physical therapy provider, it is always essential to know exactly what you can and cannot do when it comes to treating patients.
This starts with the types of exercises and therapy techniques that can be used. It extends much further beyond that to the way that you compile and store patient data. Always consider the types of services provided – and how this is done. With the surge in use of telehealth physical therapy appointments to serve clients across the country, many physical therapists are being forced to learn new practices. They must also learn new liability rules and much more about compliance with this new technology.
Telehealth will help patients stay consistent when it comes to receiving physical therapy treatment. In order for therapists to provide the type of care that their patients need and expect, it is important to consider all treatment aspects.
How to Begin Understanding What is Necessary to Offer Telehealth Physical Therapy
The first (and most important) aspect of using telehealth to serve patients is understanding exactly what telehealth is. Another important piece of information? What it entails. Telehealth physical therapy services provide benefits to patients that include:
- Access to care without leaving their homes
- One-on-one sessions tailored to meet specific patient needs
- The ability to remotely monitor and give advice about patient conditions
- Eliminating long distance travel and the need to depend on others for rides to and from appointments
- Conditional evaluations and initial consultations
Telehealth is a huge benefit to people experiencing situations like the current COVID-19 pandemic. It will also continue to be useful long after things have gone back to “normal”. It is essential for physical therapists to integrate the practice into their offerings now. This prepares you and your practice for the future.
Why Treating Telehealth Services Differently is Essential
There are two different aspects to consider when it comes to using telehealth services in your physical therapy clinic. These are security and compliance. The security of the sessions (and the information produced and used) depends on the platform used in order to deliver the services. Compliance comes from what physical therapists and their teams do with the patient information they collect. Being compliant also involves addressing any liability that may come from this information being made public.
Security of Telehealth Physical Therapy Services
When choosing a platform to use for these services, there are many different and important features that a practice should consider. Some of them include the following:
Simplicity and platform ease of use will help both patient and therapist get the most out of each session. A non-complex system can make people feel confident each time they log in.
Security is about more than ensuring that patient information is securely stored on the platform. It also entails the platform itself remaining secure. While in some cases it might be necessary to have more than the patient and therapist watching and listening in on the session, “random” individuals should not be able to access them.
Safety for patients and therapists must be carefully considered during each telehealth session. This means having patients sign a Telehealth Consent to Treat prior to their session. It also means being able to easily see and hear each other. It also includes being confident when asking questions or demonstrating exercises or techniques. Finally, knowing where patients are physically located during sessions in case of an emergency is essential.
The more information provided, the better.
If you’re unsure about whether or not your chosen platform offers these features, (and others that include flexibility with scheduling and attending sessions, a reminder system and an audio/video recording feature) reach out to the companies offering telehealth. This allows you to obtain more information before implementing a new technology. It is a good idea to understand two things about these options:
- What benefits they provide
- How they comply with safety regulations
Compliance When Providing Telehealth Physical Therapy Services
This is the aspect that is most worrisome when implementing a new type of technology or offering. Why? Everything that a physical therapist does or that their clinic does needs to be HIPAA compliant. This is true whether or not laws have been temporarily “waived”. This means keeping clients and their information safe, as well as following other guidelines for care. These guidelines are outlined in the APTA Code of Ethics and The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.
Physical therapy treatments should help patients as much as possible over time. This can only be done by following all proper guidelines. Physical therapy professionals must also be careful and competent when working with patients. This is true for both services and platforms used, as well as the methods that are chosen for treatment.
The safest way to ensure compliance and protect yourself and your practice (aside from remaining up to date on changes to HIPAA laws and regulations, and any alterations to the Code of Ethics) is to sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with your telehealth service provider and ensure that you and your team are covered by a reputable and comprehensive insurance policy.
Insurance policies like the ones available through CM&F Group are comprehensive, affordable, and useful for a variety of professions and situations.
The simple truth is that you may be an incredible physical therapist with a great reputation and track record with patient recovery and improvement – but that does not make you experienced on the legal side of your practice.
By leaving the legalities to the professionals, you’re saving yourself a great deal of stress and trouble. Not only will the representatives from CM&F be able to advise you about the best possible coverage to meet your needs, they can offer you guidance, assistance and general information about the plans they offer. This might seem like an overload of information, but having too much to think about is better than having too little when you need it most.
You may be hesitant to ask questions about insurance coverage and all of the “what if” scenarios that you may face. Remember, being too prepared is much more appealing than finding that you need coverage or advice that you do not have access to.
You can only focus on the aspects of physical therapy that you have experience with, and in all circumstances, this focus needs to be on your clients. They seek you out in order to improve their health, and so they deserve the highest quality care that you can provide them. This is about more than simply helping them regain strength and independence. It also involves patients knowing that while they work hard to become stronger and more capable, they are protected.
Compliance and Security Risks for Physical Therapists Exist, But You Can Minimize Them
Let’s face it. You have a lot to worry about these days. Worries include scheduling and seeing patients and keeping up with newly established orders from federal and local governments. In addition to this? Trying to focus on your own physical and mental health.
This is the perfect time to learn more information about updated laws, expectations and compliance measures. To keep current and compliant, changes and updates often occur within liability insurance policies.
If you or your practice is thinking about implementing – or have recently started using – telehealth services for physical therapy and the benefit of your clients, you will want to reach out to your insurance company to see what (if anything) has changed.
Want to learn more? Visit websites for platforms like BetterTelehealth and CM&F Group’s liability insurance offerings for physical therapy providers and clinics. Recommended by many within the healthcare community, knowing more about your options is always a great option.
Before reaching out to talk with a representative of either of these companies, you’ll have more information. Key points include:
- What to expect from physical therapy sessions and your PT professional
- Need to know information about your treatment and care
- What you should ask in order to be fully informed about your treatment
Dr. Marla Ranieri graduated from Stanford University with her Bachelor’s degree in Human Biology in 2005. She went on to receive her Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 2009. Dr. Ranieri has worked with all types of individuals, including professional athletes as part of the USA Gymnastics Medical Staff. She continues to treat patients with evidence-based medicine and the best quality of care.