Going Digital – Telehealth Physical Therapy

April 8, 2020

By Melisa Abesa PT, DPT, OCS

In light of the current pandemic, telehealth is the new buzz word. But what exactly is it? Per the World Health Organization, “Telehealth involves the use of telecommunications and virtual technology to deliver health care outside of traditional health-care facilities.” In other words, telehealth involves remote health care visits delivered through an online/digital platform. 

Many health care providers including physicians and specialists have started offering telehealth services for improved access to care. With constantly evolving social distancing orders, the use of telehealth services has recently skyrocketed. Epidemic aside, telehealth offers many benefits for the general population. According to the Mayo Clinic, these advantages include the ability to:

  • Make health care accessible to people who live in rural or isolated communities.
  • Make services more readily available or convenient for people with limited mobility, time or transportation options.
  • Provide access to medical specialists.
  • Improve communication and coordination of care among members of a health care team and a patient.
  • Provide support for self-management of health care.”

What about telehealth physical therapy? 

Telehealth is a fantastic way to continue with (or start!) physical therapy services from the safety of your own home. Through a safe, private, and HIPAA-compliant platform, we as physical therapists can offer an evaluation, discussion and education, treatment, and long term planning to help reach your goals. We can work with most populations that we see in-person in a clinic setting. This includes individuals with chronic pain, weakness or impaired balance, acute musculoskeletal injuries, and post-operative needs.

Pros and cons?

How does a remote visit compare to physical therapy in the clinic? There are certainly pros and cons to telehealth services, but we can still provide personalized one-on-one care remotely. Some perks of telehealth include the ease of use and accessibility – there are no requirements for transportation or child care to come in for an appointment. In light of COVID19, treatment in the safety of your home is especially important for any high risk individuals. It also allows for a saving of both time and money – no waiting or travel time and sometimes lower insurance billing and copays. Lastly, there are some added benefits of telehealth that clinic visits don’t allow. With virtual access to your home environment, we can assess and modify your home office ergonomics, screen for fall risks, and create home-friendly exercises with the space and tools you have immediately available. 

Unfortunately, there are some mild setbacks to virtual appointments. Accessibility can be both a pro and con, as not everyone has access to a strong internet connection and a device with both camera and microphone. We as providers are limited with hands on assessments and treatments (but while beneficial, they are only a small fraction of the skills and services we provide). Lastly, we may lack certain equipment we may otherwise have access to in the clinic. 

At the end of the day, we as physical therapists are here to serve YOU. Our primary goal is to optimize function and quality of life. Our strengths include our knowledge of the human body, our understanding of pain and strategies for management, and our creativity to cater to individual needs – all things we can offer through telehealth services.

What does a session look like? 

First, you will receive a link to connect with us online through a HIPAA-complaint portal (we currently use doxy.me). We can work with current, past, and new patients. The only requirements are a device with video and audio capacity (such a smart phone, tablet, or computer), a strong internet connection, and some space to move around. A session would include:

  • discussion of current status, symptom presentation, and past medical history
  • answering any questions and collaborative goal setting
  • assessment of movement patterns, range of motion, functional strength, etc.
  • initiation, review, and/or progression of exercises
  • home assessment if appropriate – for ergonomics, exercise set up, etc.
  • new or updated HEP, and handouts can still be provided electronically

The perks of telehealth physical therapy vastly outweigh its limitations. We are here for you! In this time of uncertainty, there are plenty of things outside of our control, and we don’t want your health care to be one of them. If you are in pain, limited with your activities, unsure of how to properly set up a home office, or managing a new or nagging injury – CALL US TODAY!

Melisa Abesa is a California transplant who has come to love the Pacific Northwest. Since graduating with her Doctorate of Physical Therapy from the University of Southern California in 2014, she has practiced in the Portland/Salem area. She advocates for patient empowerment, individualized care, and a holistic approach to health and wellness.

As a board-certified clinical specialist in orthopedic physical therapy, she enjoys working with a large variety of orthopedic and sports-related conditions. Special interests include running, headache treatments, post-operative care, peripartum care, and adolescent athletes.

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