What is telehealth?
Simply put, telehealth is the use of electronic information and telecommunications to promote long-distance health care. This can include video conferencing, streaming media, wireless communications, and other forms of internet communications.
Who is using telehealth?
Many medical professions have begun to incorporate aspects of telehealth into their practice acts. From dermatologists to general practice physicians, medicine has definitely embraced telehealth. Mental health professionals, including psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists have also begun to provide telehealth services. Insurance companies see the value and efficacy of remote clinical care, and they have begun to reimburse for these services, as well.
Depending on the practitioner and nature of the care they provide, telehealth can sometimes be an entirely remote operation, meaning the patient never meets the provider face to face. In other cases, the patient will meet the provider, then receive follow-up care remotely.
How does this apply to physical therapy?
As a profession, physical therapy has been struggling to adapt to the many changes that are occurring in healthcare. These changes include declining reimbursement and increased paperwork, which often lead to additional issues, such as therapist burnout. As other professions have solved similar issues by incorporating elements of telehealth into their operations, PTs are just beginning to do the same.
In certain settings, it makes a lot of sense to incorporate remote care. For example, outpatient orthopedic PTs often see patients three times per week for strengthening, to make the type of progress the patients need in the way of stability. But for many patients, work, family, or travel constraints preclude them from attending therapy three times per week. Telehealth enables a therapist to remotely monitor a patient’s HEP and updates notes, without the patient needing to drive to the clinic. It’s a win-win situation; not only can a patient save time and be seen by a preferred clinician, that clinician can simultaneous treat other patients in a similar manner, without compromising care.
Is it legal/ethical?
The natural question any PT will ask is whether treating a patient remotely is ethical. After all, we’re notorious for our “hands on” approach to patient care. The APTA, however, endorses the use of telehealth in the physical therapy field, provided there is ultimately a physical therapist (licensed in the patient’s own state) responsible for providing the care.
Obviously, telehealth has its limitations. It should not be used to replace an initial consult, and rough estimates that are seen via video camera are different from actual palpation and range of motion data that a therapist can collect in person.
The key is using remote PT treatments as they are intended: to improve care by increasing patients’ access to clinicians. Not only can a patient see receive PT when it might otherwise be geographically unattainable, this patient can actually select a therapist of his or her own choosing, provided he/she can attend an initial evaluation and occasional progress update visit. Location truly ceases to be an issue with telehealth.
How do I bill for telehealth?
Just like in-person physical therapy visits, you can bill for services such as therapeutic exercise, therapeutic activities, neuromuscular re-ed, and group therapy. You will need to use the GT modifier after your 5 digit CPT code, though. For example, for ther-ex, you’d bill “97110 GT.”
What do I need to incorporate telehealth into my existing PT practice?
The beauty of a good telehealth program is that you don’t need any special equipment to make it happen. In fact, PHZIO, the leading telehealth provider of physical therapy services, can be installed on any existing computer at your clinic. A full training and certification program is provided by PHZIO (for each of your therapists who plan to use it), to ensure that therapists feel confident moving as they provide telehealth care. Therapists can then log on and securely treat up to six patients at one time.
The beauty of the program is that it lowers one of the biggest barriers to patient compliance: travel.
I’m a new grad. Should I use telehealth?
While only you can decide whether you feel comfortable providing any form of physical therapy, telehealth is completely appropriate for any licensed physical therapist. Why? Because the type of care a patient receives remotely is the exact same care they would receive in the clinic. Exercise prescription, modification, and dosage can be administered from anywhere.
Don’t be shy; we know you have more questions. Feel free to contact us firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, and we’ll add them to this article!