Telemedicine for Physical Therapy

After a year of COVID-19, we’ve all become experts at social distancing. Industries have adapted quickly with changes to everything from the way we watch movies to buying groceries. And as difficult and annoying as much of this has been. Some of these changes were on the way anyway, with the pandemic simply speeding up its debut. Take telemedicine, for example. It’s one of the great recent advancements in physical therapy.

Also known as telehealth or virtual physical therapy, telemedicine for physical therapy is a new way of seeing and treating patients. It has only recently been made possible thanks to technological advances such as video conferencing and remote patient monitoring hardware and software.

 

How Does Telemedicine Work?

Telemedicine allows a patient to see their doctor without ever leaving the comfort of their own home. The doctor could be in the clinic, on the road, or anywhere else with a secure Internet connection. It’s as easy as talking to your children or grandchildren over Zoom, except you can be sure you have your doctor’s full attention when you describe your arthritis pain.

Telemedicine can be used for everything from initial consultations to follow-ups to training and supervision of rehabilitation exercises. It’s an excellent way to make physical therapy more accessible to more people, more efficient, and cost-effective.

 

Does Telemedicine Work for Everyone?

Physical therapy can be a very hands-on field of medicine. The doctor often needs to touch the patient to manipulate limbs and joints and feel the engagement of muscles as simple activities are performed. It’s hard to match this physical contact in an online setting. Likewise, some rehabilitation exercises will require in-person contact, either because of limited equipment availability or the inability of the patient to do the work without a helping hand.

However, in many cases where an in-person visit isn’t necessary, where offices can save time and money with a televisit.

When is Telemedicine Useful for Physical Therapy?

Telemedicine can be useful for an initial consultation, but it would be helpful for the patient to see their physical therapist in person at least once in most cases. Still, there are times when that’s not possible — or even safe. And for many follow-up sessions with a PT, telemedicine is a valid option. It’s great for remote monitoring of exercise prescriptions, helping both with compliance and proper form.

Some specific benefits of physical therapy telemedicine include:

  • Video conferences to observe and monitor exercise
  • Visual evaluation
  • Video conferences for group education
  • Referrals to specialists
  • Easy communication with patients
  • Simple distribution of prerecorded exercise plan videos
  • Stroke patient rehabilitation
  • Easy follow-up of in-person visits
  • Cut drive time, wait time, and fuel costs for patients
  • Limit exposure to and transmission of viruses such as COVID-19 and flu

 

Is Telemedicine Covered by Insurance?

Insurance coverage for telemedicine services varies widely depending on your carrier and your state. Even though every state offers reimbursement for some form of live video, regulations can be inconsistent and complicated. Even if your doctor or PT wants to use telemedicine services with you, you’ll need to check with your carrier first to ensure the services are covered.