To say that 2020 has been a year marked by change would be an understatement. In a matter of weeks, cities have all but shut down, companies have shifted their entire workforce to a remote environment, and the government has enacted multiple rounds of emergency legislation. In the rehab therapy world, many clinics have completely changed the manner in which they deliver care to their patients, with organizations of all sizes implementing home visit and telehealth options. While change often uncovers opportunity, it also inevitably comes with a learning curve—and for providers who have suddenly found themselves offering telehealth services for the first time, navigating that learning curve is crucial to both clinical and financial success. With that in mind, we asked one PT practice leader—Kenny Sargent, PT, DPT, MTC, Clinical Director/Partner of Spooner Physical Therapy in Arizona—to share some golden drops of wisdom based on his organization’s experience adopting telehealth. Based on what he told us, here are some recommendations you can apply in your own practice:
1. Educate current patients.
For most patients, the telehealth delivery model is a brand-new concept. This is especially true when it comes to physical therapy treatment. For that reason, some folks may not even know it’s an option—which means they won’t necessarily reach out to schedule a telehealth appointment on their own. This is where a little nudge from their therapist can do wonders. According to Sargent, it’s important for PTs to get proactive about communicating with patients to ensure they are aware of their care options: “We have reached out to [patients] individually to let them know of the telehealth options so they don’t have a lapse in their care or a regression in their progress.”
2. Market your services on social media.
It’s also important to educate potential patients about the telehealth services your clinic offers. After all, as patients cycle through their care plans, you’ll need a steady stream of new patients to ensure the long-term financial health of your practice. To attract new telehealth patients, Sargent suggests creating social media posts that explain and promote your clinic’s telehealth services. Some ideas for social media posts highlighting your telehealth services include:
- video demonstrations of telehealth visits,
- success stories and testimonials from patients who’ve used your telehealth services, and
- information on different telehealth appointment formats (e.g., video conferencing, telephone, email, etc.).
3. Offer a variety of delivery options.
Speaking of different appointment formats, make sure you’re equipped to provide a variety of secure visit options for patients who aren’t comfortable using live video conferencing as their primary method of receiving treatment. As Sargent explains, some patients don’t consider themselves tech savvy and may not have the equipment necessary to complete treatments via live video. Fortunately, there is a wide array of remote care delivery options—from e-visits completed through secure online portals to telephone visits. “Even if patients aren’t comfortable with the videoconferencing,” Sargent says, “most are comfortable with a telephone follow-up.”
4. Practice beforehand.
Patients aren’t the only ones who might be a little uncomfortable with the whole telehealth concept. Prior to the pandemic, most physical therapists did not use telehealth at all. Even as they saw rapid appointment drop-offs in the wake of COVID-19, many PTs wondered how they could possibly render their services virtually and still be effective. But, now that we know patients can achieve success with this delivery model—and with many PT practices turning to it as a means of sustaining their businesses—it’s crucial that providers learn the ropes of telehealth so they can provide patients with a seamless, professional experience. To that end, Sargent recommends therapists practice conducting telehealth sessions with their coworkers, friends, and family members. “Learning the setup, connecting virtually with the patient, and then practicing how they would assess varying body parts and carry out a telehealth visit will help them be more effective in treating patients once they go live,” he says.
5. Track patient satisfaction.
It should go without saying that tracking patient satisfaction using tools like the Net Promoter Score® (NPS®) throughout the duration of care is super important. But, when you’re in the process of adding a new service—like telehealth—it’s non-negotiable. “We have continued to track [NPS for] all of our new patients that have started with telehealth as well as those who have switched over to telehealth during their plan of care,” Sargent explains. “The NPS scores we’ve received from our patients who have started with telehealth have been very high. The comments and feedback about how accommodating it is for the patient and the high level of professionalism have been encouraging.”
In particular, Sargent notes that patients have commented on how much their pain has improved in the short time they’ve used telehealth. This is encouraging for providers and signals that they’re doing something right. Plus, the clinic can use the positive data collected through NPS to advertise the effectiveness of its telehealth treatment offerings.
6. Have a designated area for conducting telehealth sessions.
If viral video call mishaps like Potato Boss or BBC Dad have taught us anything, it’s that things can—and will—go awry if you aren’t set up ahead of time for video conferencing. While these shareable moments can be comedy gold on the Internet, distracting background noises or tech blunders during a call with a patient can be frustrating—and on the patient’s end, they can make you appear unprofessional. Sargent says “having a designated and quiet space” is critical to the success of the treatment session. So, find an area in your clinic that’s suitable for conducting these visits, and make sure your colleagues know when you’re on a patient call to help prevent surprise interruptions.
7. Make sure you have the right equipment.
In addition to having a quiet place to conduct virtual visits, you should make sure your equipment is up to the task. “A proper technological set up (e.g., webcam, speakers, mic, angles, etc.) is an important part of the experience,” Sargent explains. “Dropping your Wi-Fi in the middle of a call can be frustrating, so plugging in with an ethernet cord can help with that.” You should also make sure you have your equipment ready to go and functioning properly before every call—and have a plan B in place in case there’s a malfunction (e.g., using a back-up laptop or your phone’s Wi-Fi hotspot).
Now that several payers and states have loosened restrictions on telehealth services for rehab therapists—and thus, prompted many practices to add telehealth services to their treatment offerings—it’s likely here to stay. As such, we strongly recommend that therapy providers optimize their telehealth processes—and technology solutions—for the long term. Pandemic or not, patients will continue to want and demand the flexibility that telehealth affords. As Sargent explains, “We are fully engaged now in delivering PT services with this medium and definitely plan to in the future. We know that part of health care in the future will be meeting patients where they are at.” We couldn’t agree more.
Interested in getting started with telehealth in your clinic? Check out this page to see how WebPT makes remote rehab therapy care a breeze. Have a telehealth question? Leave it in the comment section below, and we’ll do our best to provide an answer.