The COVID-19 pandemic has taken the entire rehabilitation therapy industry a major turning point. From tackling patient attrition to figuring out how to provide traditional face-to-face treatments at a safe physical distance, PTs, OTs, and SLPs must roll with a lot of punches. However, in the midst of all the chaos, there is a positive point: more payers allow rehabilitation therapists to provide services to patients via telehealth, thus reducing part of the burden caused by this health crisis.
But, all of these changes have left many therapists wondering how, exactly, to treat patients from a distance. To that end, here are three types of technology – as well as a few different examples – that help providers provide excellent care outside of the traditional clinical environment:
1. Video Chat
Although you can provide some remote care services over the phone or via instant messaging, it will be much easier for you to use a video calling platform. Not only does this simplify the treatment process, but a live video environment also more closely reflects the in-person experience that patients want and helps you better develop relationships with those patients.
Normally, you should perform a comprehensive risk assessment any third-party platform that you use to provide telehealth or distance care services. However, as compliance officer of WebPT, Veda Collmer, JD, OTR, mentioned in our recent telehealth webinar, during the COVID-19 pandemic, “The HHS Office for Civil Rights gives suppliers a little leeway. Since March 17, during the COVID-19 national public health emergency, the OCR has exercised a discretionary power in law enforcement for health professionals who provide telehealth services in “good faith” To patients through daily communication technologies. This means that therapists do not necessarily have to go through the entire risk assessment process when selecting a video platform to use during the coronavirus response period.
With all that in mind, here are some options recommended by the Civil Rights Office:
That said, we strongly recommend that you choose a platform that sign a commercial partnership agreement (BAA) – even if this agreement is not executed immediately – and perform a risk assessment as soon as you can. Also keep in mind that some payers may require you to use a specific video calling platform, which means that you may need multiple services to receive payment from multiple insurance companies. So be sure to contact all payers with whom you contract before continuing.
2. Secure email
Next, you will need a way to provide important documents to patients remotely, either through a secure patient portal or a messaging platform. When sending treatment-related material to patients, whatever method of transmission you use should:
- be safe, and
- meet HIPAA standards for the protection of patient information.
So, before choosing a messaging platform, check with the supplier that the software complies with the HIPAA standard and ask the company sign a commercial partnership agreement. Here are some messaging platforms that we suggest studying:
3. Home exercise platforms
Now let’s look at the actual processing side of things. Maintaining patient engagement throughout the care is essential for their success. However, removing the in-person treatment element can make it difficult to maintain patient engagement, which means that rehabilitation therapists need to be creative in providing care.
We are big supporters of anything that helps patients stick to their care plans. One interesting way to do this is to gamify the process. For example, if your patient has an Xbox, they can use it to play physiotherapy-based games as part of a home care plan. This is a great way to encourage patients to continue therapy, and proof has shown to be very 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 monitor the progress of their patients from a remote platform based on real-time data.
Here are some other games applications and platforms that rehabilitation therapists can use to interact and treat patients from a distance:
- Dexteria VMI: An application exclusive to Apple which helps patients to improve their visuo-motor integration skills.
- P.O.V: An iOS application that improves spatial reasoning.
- LetterReflex: An ideal app for school therapists that helps children overcome the challenges of dyslexia.
- Joint Essentials 2.0: An excellent application for SLP that teaches articulation techniques (also available for Android).
Of course, as with any remote technology you use to provide treatment, it is imperative that you cross your t’s and parse your i’s with regards to legal due diligence. Also, keep in mind that your ability to charge for services provided through these technologies is highly dependent on state payment policies and laws of practice.
Digital home exercise programs
Speaking of interactive applications, a new movement in home exercise programs is making waves – and making it easier than ever for rehabilitation therapists to generate positive results for patients at a distance. By combining the interactivity of game-based applications with the effectiveness of evidence-based home exercise, digital home exercise programs help rehabilitation therapists create and deliver home exercise plans to which patients can easily access on their mobile devices. Better yet, a platform like WebPT HEP (which integrates with WebPT EMR) can help you track patient progress, collect analytical data in real time and communicate with the patient instantly, all from a single, easy-to-use mobile platform.
Rehabilitation therapists are used to turning lemons into lemonade. And despite the uncertainty we are experiencing following the COVID-19 epidemic, it seems that the PT, OT and SLP are faced with a major opportunity in the form of expanding their use of telehealth. Do you have questions about the platforms we mentioned? Drop us a line in the comments section below!