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.
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,
On Thursday, April 30, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services officially made physical therapists, occupational therapists, and speech-language pathologists eligible to deliver—and receive reimbursement for—telehealth services for the remainder of the public health emergency period. This change—along with all other temporary provisions included in the full CMS bulletin—is retroactive to March 1, 2020.
Following several CMS announcements that providers were overusing modifiers 25 and 59 as a means to bypass edit pairs (without supplying proper documentation to support those bypasses), multiple commercial payers—including Anthem, Aetna, and Humana—adopted front-end claim edit policies for claims containing these modifiers.
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. And to keep following what the team at Exchange PT is up to, be sure to check ’em out on Instagram.
As the reality of pandemic sets in, industries across the country are experiencing a significant dropoff in business—and private practice rehab therapy is no different. Many therapy business owners have reached out to us for recommendations on how to address this, with several requesting information on the telehealth opportunities specifically available to them and their patients.
For many of us, the past couple of weeks have been surreal—almost dystopian. We have gone from living our lives as normal—observing the freedoms and routines most of us take for granted—to considering every potential action and activity through a new, exceptionally cautious lens.
It may sound a little weird, but I kind of feel bad for the dinosaurs. They were just sitting around—hunting, fighting, escaping Jurassic-themed parks, and generally minding their own business—when an enormous asteroid careened out of the sky, slammed into the Earth, and ended everything they knew in one big blaze of fire.
When it comes to punctuality, here’s my motto: “If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late.” Maybe I think that way because I have a Type A personality (holy organization, Batman). Or, maybe it’s because this rule truly applies in many situations—even in physical therapy billing.