Telehealth Services Make it Possible for Patients to Stay on Track While Practicing Social Distancing
What are Telehealth Services?
As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the nation, many medical-based professionals are scrambling to find ways to provide quality care to patients in a safe and secure manner. With the mandates to practice “social distancing” being enacted in different states in different ways, it’s important for people in “at risk” populations to feel safe while they seek treatment for conditions that typically require in person care, like physical therapy. Luckily for these patients, a newer option is emerging as one of the most useful – and comprehensive – ways to keep appointments from being missed, even though in-office visits are not always recommended: telehealth services.
Telehealth services offer patients and clinic employees the ability to schedule and attend a virtual appointment without leaving their homes (or in the case of some therapists, their offices). This remote service is gaining traction with both providers and patients of all types due to the many benefits it provides. Before COVID-19, telehealth was used in limited cases across many medical fields, but over the past few weeks, more and more medical professionals and patients are choosing to utilize it – and insurance companies are making this possible.
Social Distancing Shouldn’t Mean a Loss of Physical Therapy Progress
Being told to stay inside and to ensure that you have little contact with others for the foreseeable future as a means to “flatten the curve” when it comes to COVID-19 can be confusing, especially for those that need to interact with people for personal or health-related reasons. For many, staying home is a huge change in routine, which can mean setbacks – especially for those involved in a physical therapy treatment plan. Though it is recommended that people leave their homes in order to get fresh air and exercise by walking or riding bikes – as long as an appropriate distance is maintained between people – this isn’t always possible for those that rely on physical therapy services for strength, balance and overall health improvements. Lack of exercise and a change in overall habits can have a detrimental effect on anyone that experiences these things, but especially on a physical therapy patient’s recovery.
As therapy sessions progress, patients will see changes in their abilities, but even missing one or two sessions can have unintended consequences, requiring a longer recovery period. This makes looking into telehealth services for physical therapy a great option, because it means that patients will be able to continue connecting – and working with – their physical therapists while practicing social distancing. The most important thing for people to remember is that social distance does not have to equate to social isolation, even when patients choose to remain in their homes and receive care this way.
Benefits of Choosing Telehealth Services
- The quality of care does not decrease simply because an appointment is not “in person”. It may seem strange to think that a physical therapy session can be held as a virtual appointment, but by using a webcam properly, physical therapy professionals are able to evaluate, coach, educate and assess the progress and status of patients. It’s not a hands on experience, but as long as patients approach the sessions as they would a “typical” session, it will remain similar. In addition, therapists can guide you, your partner, or your family member how to perform some of the hands on manual therapeutic care that they would normally perform for you in the clinic.
- The ease of communication increases with telehealth services. One example of this is that by using a virtual appointment method like this, a physical therapist can make recommendations for patients to improve their home environment and make it safer and more convenient for exercise, include family members in the process (if this is what they want) and view a patient’s progress from a remote location. Though this type of appointment still needs to be scheduled, it makes it much simpler for patients to get in touch with healthcare providers and actually attend these necessary appointments.
- Telehealth services make it possible for patients to continue services even in a “crisis” situation like the current pandemic. While it is safe for many to leave their homes and complete errands and necessary tasks, accommodations need to be made for “higher risk” populations to limit exposure to others. By scheduling and attending telehealth physical therapy appointments, there’s no need to worry about transportation, about relying on others, or even coming into contact with others that are potentially sick. In addition to this, a telehealth appointment with a physical therapist is a great way for patients to ask questions, particularly about new injuries or progress/setbacks in their recovery.
How Telehealth Services Are Useful – and Can Keep People Safe
Although many people are only just now beginning to consider the overall benefits of telehealth services due to the increasing recommendation of practicing social distancing in the coming weeks, the practice actually has the ability to provide benefits even in times when decreased contact isn’t the standard. This type of service makes it possible to accomplish a lot of different tasks at the same time, and some of these are ones that not everyone would think of immediately.
What to remember about telehealth:
- This type of service makes it possible for patients to receive care with a remote option. This is especially useful for people that have to travel long distances to appointments, particularly in rural areas. Not only a benefit to patients by decreasing travel time, this is also helpful for physical therapists that do in-home appointments, because it will give them more time to schedule additional patients.
- Virtual consultations like telehealth physical therapy sessions allow professionals to prioritize by patient need. It won’t be possible to hold every session virtually, but it can make it possible for therapists and other medical professionals to complete simple check-ins, chart progress updates, answer patient questions and even to map out a path into the future of their care this way. Patients will (and still do!) receive the services they need, but without much of the hassle or hold up.
- Telehealth services are also an incredible tool for promoting patient-provider interaction in times of uncertainty. Though the need for this type of care won’t always have the same extenuating circumstances as it does today, the underlying message is the same. In some cases, patients choose to forego treatment that they need simply because it is inconvenient or impossible to get to a clinic or a provider, but with telehealth, this difficulty is eliminated. People are able to connect with and help each other, even from a distance.
- Telehealth services are constantly growing in number as more and more networks and health care professionals (and patients) use them. There will be a learning curve, but early adoption by many will allow the services to become more useful as the aspects that work or don’t work are ironed out. Additionally, the more people with varied needs that use the services, the better prepared healthcare providers will be in the future. This is a great learning experience for everyone involved, and the growing numbers show that for many, this is a preferred method for receiving care for a variety of reasons.
Receiving Physical Therapy Via Telehealth Services is Essential
As the discussion of what is considered an “essential” service or business evolves on a daily basis, and places like dental offices and hospitals are encouraged to cancel all non-essential procedures and appointments in order to ensure that patient (and employee) health is prioritized, you may be wondering where your physical therapy sessions fit in. The truth is that since physical therapy is meant to improve whole body health over a set period of time, it is – and should be – considered essential. Many doctors and healthcare experts have said that doing what is necessary to stay healthy is one of the best ways to recover from a COVID-19 diagnosis, but this doesn’t only mean eating a balanced diet and staying hydrated, it also means being in good physical health.
For many, physical therapy services are a way to regain strength, mobility, balance and independence – all qualities that people who are self-isolating or even that have been required to isolate need to possess. Many people will be spending the next few weeks alone or with very small numbers of people in their households, so being able to care for themselves is important, as is managing pain. Physical therapy isn’t always about only recovering from an injury; for many patients, the exercise that is done helps to alleviate pain at the same time it strengthens the body, and missing out on even one or two appointments can be detrimental. With the ability to consult with a therapy professional using telehealth services, patients won’t have to miss these important sessions, and therefore will reduce the risk of setbacks due to inactivity.
There is a great deal that still needs to be learned about offering telehealth services and receiving them, but the overall consensus is that in today’s world, virtual contact is key to serving the broadest number of people – and patients – possible. To learn more, click here: BetterTelehealth. Use the BetterPT clinic location tool (as well as the BetterTelehealth specific clinic list) or download the BetterPT app. Each of these options will be useful for you in finding a local physical therapy team that can help you begin utilizing this virtual treatment plan.
Stay safe, stay inside and stay healthy with BetterTeleheath!