In this Q&A, Jaclyn Fulop, MSPT, the owner of Exchange Physical Therapy Group, explains how her practice responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by implementing a telehealth model. Interested in adopting telehealth in your own organization? Be sure to review this comprehensive blog post on leveraging and billing for telehealth in rehab therapy, this FAQ on Medicare’s new e-visit opportunities for rehab therapists, and this free webinar on telehealth and business continuity in the rehab industry.
What is the size of your practice (e.g., how many locations and therapists)?
We have three clinic locations—one in Jersey City, NJ; one in Hoboken, NJ; and one in Weehawken, NJ. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, we had a total of 11 physical therapists on staff.
What did your practice look like before the COVID-19 pandemic—including your patient population and volume, specialties, services, and payer mix?
Between all three locations, we were seeing about 100 patients a day, with each PT treating about 10 patients a day. Our average patient population is about 25–55 years old, and we work with most insurance companies. We treat everyone from the wellness patient who is passionate about maintaining a healthy lifestyle, to the high-level athlete who wants to gain a competitive edge, keep his or her body in peak performance, and decrease chances of injury. We provide orthopedic physical therapy (which includes sports medicine), and we have a comprehensive women’s health program with pelvic floor physical therapy. We also treat a large pediatrics population, provide pre- and post-surgical rehabilitation, offer gait and balance training, and have a vestibular rehabilitation program. All of that is to say, we work with a variety of different patients with different conditions.
Did you offer any telehealth services before the pandemic?
We did not offer telehealth before the pandemic, but we plan to use this service going forward whenever a patient cannot make it into the office.
Are your physical clinic locations still open, or are you only providing virtual services at this time?
All three locations are still open (as of the publication date of this article), as physical therapy is deemed an essential industry in our location. Our physical therapists are on the front lines of this pandemic, making sure our post-op patients and those in need of essential rehabilitation services can function and have access to the help they need. We are also offering virtual telehealth PT sessions so our patients can receive treatment from the comfort of their homes. As healthcare providers, the health and safety of our community is our number-one priority.
How did you go about transitioning to a telehealth practice model in such a short amount of time? What steps did you take to make it happen?
We started using a HIPAA-compliant video platform and educated our PTs on how a session should be delivered. We also used WebPT Reach to notify our entire patient list that we were making this service available to them, and we used our social media platforms to market the telehealth practice model publicly, so our community could get a better understanding of how to get the help they need in the comfort of their own home.
What percentage of your patients are you able to keep active via telehealth?
I would estimate that we’ve kept 10% of our patients active via telehealth.
What sort of cancellation rates are you seeing? How do they compare to your rates before the pandemic?
Last week, we averaged just over 40 patients a day, so we had about a 60% dropoff rate. And about seven patient visits per day were telehealth visits. We’re still not sure what our numbers are this week.
Are many of your payers covering telehealth?
We are seeing that a lot of our plans do cover telehealth. Aetna has been great and is offering a $0 copay for telemedicine visits for the next 90 days, until June 4, 2020.
What has been the patient response?
We have gotten great feedback from our patients. They love the one-on-one format and intimacy of virtual care sessions.
How did adopting telehealth impact your ability to retain staff through the COVID-19 response period?
Thanks to the demand for telehealth services, we have been able to keep six of our 11 physical therapist employees on the payroll. Telehealth has added value and extra sessions to the roster.
What telehealth platform do you use? Was it difficult to get up and running?
We use Doxy.me, and getting set up was pretty straightforward.
What else would you like to tell rehab therapy practices that are looking to adopt telehealth right now?
Telehealth is an alternative for treating those patients in need of essential rehabilitation services. We want to make sure our patients can function and can get the help they need while following the recommendations of social distancing. With the temporary closure of many gyms, health clubs, and fitness centers, it is imperative that all of us continue to exercise and stay healthy at home. Virtual physical therapy allows patients to access our services from the safety of their own home and still receive quality one-on-one care and education from a licensed healthcare professional.
Keep in mind that while there are certainly ways for PTs, OTs, and SLPs to leverage telehealth in their practices now, there’s still a lot of work to be done on the advocacy front to make telehealth more universally available to rehab providers and their patients. And there’s never been a better time to make that push. To learn how you can get involved, check out this blog post by WebPT Co-founder and Chief Clinical Officer Heidi Jannenga, PT, DPT, ATC.