Physical therapy via telehealth became popular quickly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
What is telehealth physical therapy? ‘Telehealth’ involves an appointment with a healthcare provider completed virtually without an in-person office visit. Originally, telehealth was created to increase access to healthcare in remote and rural areas.
However, during the pandemic, the field of telehealth physical therapy has grown tremendously.
Currently, services ranging from mental health, pharmacy, primary care, and more have adapted to telehealth services. It is no surprise that physical therapy has followed suit.
According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), telehealth PT is a one-on-one video appointment with a physical therapy provider. It can include an initial examination and follow-up appointments with a physical therapist or a supervised physical therapy assistant. This service falls under the category of “digital health technologies” and is covered in many states’ physical therapy practice acts.
Any physical therapist or supervised physical therapy assistant who holds an active license in an applicable state can practice telehealth PT.
Is virtual PT effective?
Physical therapy via telehealth became popular quickly during the COVID-19 pandemic, providing rehabilitation researchers ample data for assessing effectiveness. One study analyzed over 4,500 virtual physical therapy sessions provided by more than 40 therapists in 2 months of the pandemic. The results showed a 94% satisfaction rate for patients utilizing telehealth, with 92% reporting they would attend another session virtually.
Another study found patients were more highly satisfied with their ability to schedule an appointment virtually than they were for in-person sessions.
What are some benefits?
The average physical therapy patient completes anywhere from 6 to 12 sessions lasting approximately 50 minutes each. Before telehealth, that could mean that, two days per week for up to 6 weeks, the patient had to dedicate time and energy to scheduling appointments, traveling to and from therapy, as well as potentially missing work or finding childcare.
According to ChoosePT.com, a physical therapy advocacy website run by the APTA, telehealth can help ease the burden of accessibility to services, including specialized therapists that may not be local to a patient, while also reducing the barriers of transportation and time traveling to and from sessions.
Is telehealth covered by insurance?
The government released updates on telehealth reimbursement in August of 2022. They announced that, during the COVID-19 emergency, Medicare will cover telehealth for PTs and PTAs under Medicare part B.
Additionally, Medicaid would cover services with some restrictions. Physical therapy lobbyists are currently working to make these changes permanent and ensure telehealth options remain available after the pandemic as well. An updated list of private insurance policies as they apply to telehealth coverage can be found here.
This article was written by Cristina Parker PT, DPT, NCS