physical therapist telehealth session with patient

Implementing Physical Therapy Telehealth

Learn how Paddy Jarit of Sport and Orthopaedic Physical Therapy in Connecticut successfully implemented a physical therapy telehealth program for his outpatient practice.

The Challenge

Telehealth is not a new concept to the healthcare industry. In fact, some medical providers have been administering telehealth visits for years. But when the COVID-19 pandemic arose and states began mandating social distancing rules, Sport & Orthopaedic Physical Therapy in Connecticut found themselves needing a new way to treat patients - and fast. Without the ability to hold in-clinic visits full-time, therapist and practice owner, Paddy Jarit, was faced with the task to find alternative treatment options to support their patients and guide them to a full recovery.

The Approach

In response to the pandemic, Jarit closed his clinics, researched his options, and launched his physical therapy telehealth program in just four days. To be effective in providing virtual care physical therapy, the most important part of launching a successful telehealth program is the relentless focus on the relationship between patient and provider. Jarit comments, “even though the interaction is virtual, the relationship must be personal.” Using telehealth technology, the Insight platform and a clinical process followed by his entire staff, Jarit has been able to successfully initiate a telehealth program.

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The Implementation Process

1. REVIEW RULES, REGULATIONS, & PAYER COVERAGE
  • Know the laws in your state related to telehealth coverage and compliance.
  • Tip: Research common payers, including Medicare and commercial payers, to ensure telehealth is covered and claims are less likely to be denied.
2. RESEARCH YOUR PATIENT MARKET
  • Consider potential barriers or limitations that may impact patients, like internet access or functional limitations.
  • Tip: Patients with busy schedules, kids, or long commutes may be more likely to attend telehealth visits.
3. RESEARCH AND CHOOSE YOUR TELEHEALTH PROVIDER
  • Consider if the software is user-friendly for both staff and patients.
  • Tip: Some telehealth providers offer additional perks that may benefit your clinic, like additional security features or online scheduling options.
4. TRAIN YOUR STAFF
  • Encourage dialogue between providers and ask staff to share tips so everyone becomes more familiar with the software.
  • Tip: Allow team members to test the software at least once before their first patient visit.
 

The Patient Process

1. SCHEDULE PATIENT
  • Schedule each patient for 45 minutes with a five-minute window in between appointments.
  • Tip: Use two monitors during the online physical therapy visit – one for documentation, the other for patient interaction.
2. PROVIDE PATIENT WITH STEP-BY-STEP INSTRUCTIONS
  • Provide patients with step-by-step instructions on how to prepare for their virtual therapy session.
  • Tip: Include directions on how to test audio and video settings prior to the session.
3. REQUIRE CONSENT FORM BEFORE APPOINTMENT
  • Require patients to sign and return a consent form before the appointment.
  • Tip: If the patient doesn’t have a scanner, a cell phone photo of the consent form works just as well.
4. USE A VIRTUAL WAITING ROOM
  • Use a virtual “waiting room” so staff can acknowledge the patient has arrived just like they would in the front office.
  • Tip: Most teleconferencing platforms offer a waiting room feature.
5. FOLLOW UP WITH A TELEHEALTH PLAYLIST
  • Follow up each virtual visit with a Telehealth Playlist on your Facebook or YouTube channel.
  • Tip: Use the videos to coach patients on how to complete their exercises from the safety of their own home.

The Results

Overall, in their short experience with telehealth, Jarit and the entire team at Sport & Orthopaedic Physical Therapy are each effectively treating patients virtually and have experienced a high level of receptiveness and appreciation from their patients. Jarit notes, “patients have more than welcomed me into their homes through telehealth physical therapy. The most common comment has been that they’re thankful that I can watch them do their exercises at home while fine-tuning their technique.” Although our country is still enduring the pandemic, with the help of telehealth, Sport & Orthopaedic Physical Therapy successfully arrived 217 patients in the month of April, which is nearly in line with their January numbers pre-telehealth of 235 patients. To his credit, Jarit has taken time to share his telehealth experiences with the rest of the outpatient rehabilitation community. As an active participant in Clinicient’s COVID-19 Town Halls, Jarit has been a consistent and generous contributor to the telehealth conversations. Although crisis invites change, as an industry, we’re learning as we go and sticking together in the process.

The Future

Telehealth may be a relatively new concept to the physical therapy space, but it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere even after COVID-19. Post outbreak, 90% of hospitals expect greater use of telehealth to persist.* Clinics like Sport & Orthopaedic Physical Therapy have embraced telehealth in a very short time and will only become more skilled at delivering effective virtual care over time. Jarit adds, “if the insurance industry realizes the value of telehealth PT I undoubtedly see this as an adjunct to my in-clinic physical therapy.” Patients don’t have to lose their momentum towards a full recovery just because there’s a pandemic and providers can continue to be effective in their care without face-to-face interaction. Telehealth is here to stay and will continue to transform the outpatient rehabilitation industry.

* The Impact of COVID-19 on US Hospitals – Edition 5; L.E.K Consulting, April 29, 2020.

laptop display showing telehealth session

Patients have more than welcomed me into their homes through telehealth. The most common comment has been that they’re thankful that I can watch them do their exercises at home while fine-tuning their technique. When the insurance industry realizes the value of telehealth PT, I see it becoming a permanent adjunct to my in-clinic practice.

Paddy Jarit PT, SCS, ATCSport & Orthopaedic Physical Therapy