Telehealth tips: How to make the most of online physical therapy

(BPT) - With social distancing and stay-at-home orders, you may not be able to go to health care appointments like you did before. For people who receive physical therapy (PT), this can impact their ability to heal fully, manage their conditions and feel their best. Fortunately, telehealth is an option for patients to continue their care through online PT.

"Life can get busy and current restrictions make it difficult to facilitate in-clinic PT sessions," says Charles Thigpen, senior director of practice innovation and analytics at ATI Physical Therapy. "Rather than missing sessions and lengthening your recovery time, consider virtual TeleVisits as a valuable way to supplement in-clinic visits."

Thigpen explains online PT is a convenient way to continue treatment during COVID-19 closures or anytime you can’t visit a clinic in person. Sessions can be done at home at any time that works for you and your physical therapist, removing barriers associated with social distancing, commuting and limited clinic hours.

"Online PT can work for nearly everyone, regardless of whether you’re at high risk for COVID-19 or not," Thigpen says. "Virtual appointments help you continue your treatment plan at home by extending the expertise of your therapist to where you are. It also helps relieve stress on doctor’s offices and emergency rooms that need to dedicate space to medically complex patients during this critical time in healthcare. Online PT can help you and your community."

To get the most out of your online PT appointments, Thigpen recommends asking these questions:

Does online PT align well with your in-clinic sessions?

The road to recovery requires continuous care, so ask how telehealth sessions can become part of your treatment plan. Ensure your virtual sessions align with the program you worked on in-clinic to allow for continual treatment and the best outcomes for your body. Online treatment sessions ensure you can continue your PT program without interruption.

What technology is needed and used for appointments?

Ensure your therapist is using a professional digital platform with therapy tools that help you get the most out of your sessions. For example, ATI Physical Therapy’s new online platform, ATI CONNECT, features screening tools, comprehensive musculoskeletal (MSK) evaluations, expert advice, in-depth content and video messaging, all in one secure, HIPAA-compliant environment. What's more, you don't need to download any apps: All you need is a smartphone, tablet or computer with audio and video capabilities to connect with ATI’s licensed physical and occupational therapists.

Does your insurance provider cover telehealth services?

Insurance coverage for telehealth services is expanding rapidly; however, it's important to check with your insurance provider that your therapist and online PT sessions are covered to the same extent as your in-person sessions at the clinic. Your therapist or clinic billing contact may be able to answer your questions, but consider calling your insurance provider directly to discuss coverage before your first session.

When can sessions be scheduled and how long will they last?

One of the benefits of online PT is that sessions can occur at any time that works for you and your therapist. This could mean more availability for sessions to be scheduled at a time that best fits into your week. Call your therapist to ask about scheduling options and what you can expect from each session. Initial sessions may last longer than subsequent sessions, so make sure to block off the appropriate time.

"Whether you're recovering from an injury, dealing with age-related aches and pains, managing chronic pain or anything else, continuity of care is essential to making progress and recovering. Online PT is a valuable option now and one that is expected to grow in the future," says Thigpen.

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