You might think that transitioning between adult and pediatric telehealth physical therapy is a piece of cake, but I’m here to tell you that you should definitely do some homework before embarking on a virtual journey with littles.
Three months ago, if you had asked me, “What is the application for telehealth in physical therapy?” I would have answered, “Very limited.” Up until then, I believed that for patients with no other options—like those in the remotest parts of the country—telehealth might be useful. But otherwise, not so much. Physical therapy is by definition physical. For it to be effective, the provider must be physically with the patient. Or so I thought.
We’ve talked at length about nearly every aspect of telehealth as it relates to physical therapy: its advantages, its shortcomings, how to bill for it, how to launch and market it—the list goes on. However, there’s one angle we’ve yet to cover, and it’s perhaps the most important when it comes to the future of telehealth in rehab: the case for telehealth’s continued use and coverage in PT.
They say growth only happens when you get out of your comfort zone, which is why I always try to remain optimistic in the face of major change. After all, change drives creativity and innovation—and for physical therapists, that translates to better and more accessible care for every patient.
Whenever I write a post for the WebPT Blog, I always start with a rough draft—and believe me, they’re usually very rough. Then, once I’ve gotten all my ideas onto the page, I go back through with a proverbial fine-tooth comb to make sure my post doesn’t sound like the vague ramblings of a madwoman.
Prior to the pandemic, telehealth was slowly gaining traction as a viable mode of service delivery for OTs, PTs, and SLPs. Providers and patients were beginning to appreciate its benefits (especially for patients in rural areas and pediatric patients living on federal land) but adoption was scattered. Some states, such as Georgia, explicitly authorized telehealth in their rehab therapy state practice acts, while others authorized rehab therapy telehealth via a separate, related statute.
There’s a whole lotta talk about why you should use telehealth in your physical therapy practice right now (e.g., scheduling flexibility, financial stability, and reduced no-shows). But what about how to use it? After all, any new technique or technology is bound to come with a learning curve—and if you’re implementing it in your practice on a tight schedule, you need that curve to be a short one.
In these tumultuous times, it is of the utmost importance that we prioritize the safety of our fellow healthcare workers and patients. That is why many providers are seriously considering changing their business model and reallocating resources to telehealth—especially considering that CMS is beginning to reimburse PTs and OTs for certain telehealth services.
The coronavirus pandemic was a catalyst for a new wave of regulatory changes that expanded the rehab therapist toolbox almost overnight. Most recently, CMS made telehealth more widely accessible to rehab therapy providers. (Hallelujah!) While the industry has been fighting for this privilege for years, the swift change cast many providers into the uncharted waters of remote care with very little time to prepare.
Some states—such as Louisiana and Ohio—had already authorized telehealth as a mode of service delivery for physical therapists. A few state Medicaid programs, such as Minnesota, reimbursed for OT and SLP telehealth services. Of course, Medicare did not authorize rehabilitation providers to deliver services virtually
Last week, CMS announced that PTs—along with OTs and SLPs—are eligible to provide telehealth services to Medicare beneficiaries for the duration of this emergency, which is huge. Rehab therapists have been advocating hard for this move since well before the pandemic struck, and now that this change is on the books,
Adding new cash-pay services to your clinic’s repertoire can be a challenge. Not only do you have to ensure that you have the legal freedom to provide cash-based services (because you might not), but you also have to price and market them in a way that ensures patients will not only pay for those services out of pocket, but also receive value commensurate to the cost.