The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the entire rehab therapy industry a major curveball. From contending with patient attrition to figuring out how to provide traditionally face-to-face treatments from a safe physical distance, PTs, OTs, and SLPs are having to roll with a lot of punches. However, in the midst of all the chaos, there is one bright spot: more payers are allowing rehab therapists to provide services to patients via telehealth, thus easing some of the burden brought on by this health crisis.

But, all those changes have left a lot of therapists wondering how, exactly, to go about treating patients remotely. To that end, here are three types of technology—along with a few different examples—that are helping providers deliver excellent care outside of the traditional clinic environment:

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1. Video Chat

While you can provide some remote care services over the phone or via instant messaging, you’ll find it a lot easier to use a video call platform. Not only does it simplify the treatment process, but a live video environment also more closely mirrors the in-person experience that patients want and better supports you in developing rapport with those patients.

Ordinarily, you need to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment of any third-party platform you use to provide telehealth or remote care services. However, as WebPT Chief Compliance Officer Veda Collmer, JD, OTR, mentioned in our recent telehealth webinar, during the COVID-19 pandemic, “the HHS Office for Civil Rights is giving providers a little bit of wiggle room. As of March 17, for the duration of the nationwide public COVID-19 health emergency, the OCR is exercising enforcement discretion for healthcare professionals who provide ‘good faith’ telehealth services to patients through everyday communication technologies.” That means therapists don’t necessarily have to go through the entire risk assessment process when selecting a video platform to use during the coronavirus response period.

With all of that in mind, here are a few options the Office for Civil Rights recommends:

That said, we highly recommend picking a platform that will sign a business associate agreement (BAA)—even if that agreement isn’t executed immediately—and conducting a risk assessment as soon as you’re able. Also, keep in mind that certain payers may require you to use a specific video call platform, which means you may end up needing multiple services to receive payment from multiple insurance carriers. So, be sure to reach out to any payers you contract with before proceeding.

2. Secure Email

Next, you’ll need a way to deliver important documents to patients remotely—whether that be through a secure patient portal or an email platform. When sending treatment-related materials to patients, whatever transmission method you use must:

  1. be secure, and
  2. meet HIPAA standards for protecting patient information.

So, before choosing an email platform, confirm with the vendor that the software is HIPAA-compliant—and have the company sign a business associate agreement. Here are a few email platforms we suggest looking into:

3. At-Home Exercise Platforms

Now, let’s dig into the actual treatment side of things. Keeping patients engaged throughout the duration of care is crucial to their success. But, removing the in-person element of treatment can make it extra challenging to maintain patient engagement—which means rehab therapists must get creative with care delivery.

Interactive Games

We are big supporters of anything that helps patients stick to their care plans. One interesting way of doing this is to gamify the process. For example, if your patient owns an Xbox, he or she can use it to play physical therapy-based games as part of an at-home plan of care. This is an excellent way to get patients excited about sticking with therapy—and evidence has shown that it’s highly effective. In some cases, these games can send feedback to the patient’s therapist. For example, MIRA Therapy is a game-based platform that allows providers to track their patients’ progress from a remote platform based on real-time data.

Here are a few other game-based apps and platforms rehab therapists can use to engage with and treat patients from a distance:

  • Dexteria VMI: An Apple-exclusive app that helps patients improve their visual-motor integration skills.
  • P.O.V: An iOS app that improves spatial reasoning.
  • LetterReflex: An ideal app for school-based therapists that helps children overcome the challenges of dyslexia.
  • Articulation Essentials 2.0: An excellent app for SLPs that teaches articulation techniques (also available for Android).

Of course, as with any remote technology you use to provide treatment, it’s imperative that you cross your t’s and dot your i’s with respect to legal due diligence. Additionally, keep in mind that your ability to bill for services delivered via these technologies is highly dependent on payer policies and state practice acts. 

Digital Home Exercise Programs

Speaking of interactive apps, a new movement in home exercise programs is making waves—and making it easier than ever before for rehab therapists to drive positive patient outcomes from a distance. By combining the interactivity of game-based apps with the effectiveness of evidence-based home exercises, digital home exercise programs help rehab therapists create and deliver at-home exercise plans that patients can easily access on their mobile devices. Better yet, a platform like WebPT HEP (which integrates with the WebPT EMR) can help you track patient progress, collect real-time analytical data, and communicate with the patient instantaneously—all from one easy-to-use mobile platform.

Rehab therapists are no strangers to turning lemons into lemonade. And despite the uncertainty we’re experiencing as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, it seems like PTs, OTs, and SLPs are standing in front of a major opportunity in the form of expanding their use of telehealth. Got any questions about the platforms we mentioned? Drop us a line in the comment section below!