Time for a Telehealth Revisit

By: Jennifer Heiligman, PT, MPT

By August 2021, everyone was hoping the Covid-19 pandemic would be, for the most part, behind us.  Unfortunately, that does not appear to be the case.  With more contagious and infectious variants of the virus being identified, transmission of the disease has increased in most parts of the country.  This high transmission rate is resulting in the reintroduction of mask mandates and a reinforcement of maintaining social distancing.  

The increased risk of becoming infected, may be enough for some of your patients to discontinue their rehab therapy services.  Discontinuing their care will decrease their chance for positive outcomes and achieving their functional goals.  In addition, decreasing patient visit volume could once again negatively impact the revenue of your outpatient rehab therapy practice.  Telehealth, however, may be a solution to both these issues.

If your practice never initiated a telehealth program or you have started to phase it out, now may be the time to revisit this method of providing treatment.   There are many benefits of telehealth including alleviating the need for the patient to physically come to your clinic, which can decrease their risk of contracting or spreading Covid-19 (or other contagious diseases such as the flu) and alleviate transportation and/or childcare issues.  Telehealth allows for one on one care between the therapist and the patient and research suggests that home exercise compliance is higher when the patient participates in telehealth visits compared to in office visits.

Rules and regulations regarding telehealth services continue to shift and can vary depending on your state and specific payers.  Therefore, it is recommended to continue to stay on top of the most up to date rules.  This involves checking with your state and each individual payer’s guidelines often.  At the time of publication, Medicare continues to cover telehealth services provided by physical, occupational and speech therapists in accordance with the Covid-19 public health emergency.  In addition, this public health emergency has been extended until October 19, 2021.  Medicare released an updated list of services payable under the physician fee schedule when furnished via telehealth on 7/19/21.  That list can be found here.   To find information on your specific state check out the National Telehealth Policy Resource Center website.

Before starting to provide telehealth services, there are some legal considerations that should be reviewed.  First, check with your insurance company to make sure you are covered when providing telehealth services.  You don’t want to take a chance that your malpractice insurance would not cover you should an issue occur.  Second, verify that the platform you are using to perform telehealth visits is secure and HIPAA compliant.  Although the federal government has issued a notification of enforcement discretion to waive HIPAA penalties during the public health emergency, a number of state attorney generals have not done the same.  Therefore, it is better to be safe than sorry and do your research before you start conducting telehealth visits.  Third, be sure you have the patient sign an informed consent form.  This is a process that you would normally do for an in office visit and the process for a telehealth visit should be no different.

As a therapist, if you are interested in improving your telehealth skills and learning best practices related to providing rehab therapy services via telehealth, visit your professional association website.  The APTA, AOTA, and ASHA all have resources available.

The easiest and most efficient way to provide rehab therapy telehealth services is to use an EMR that has telehealth already embedded into their platform.  OptimisPT users have OptimisMeet available at no additional charge.  OptimisMeet is secure and HIPAA compliant.  The workflow to schedule and complete telehealth visits when using OptimisMeet is seamless.   The meeting link is automatically generated when the patient is scheduled for a telehealth type of visit and the patient can access the visit link via email or via our OptimumMe Patient Engagement App.  We also have embedded, compliantly structured templates relevant to documenting for virtual visits available to use within our system.  You can use our patient portal to send documents to your patients which can be electronically signed and sent back directly into OptimisPT.  A home exercise program can also be sent electronically to the patient via email or via OptimumMe.  If you are interested in learning more about OptimisPT and OptimisMeet, please schedule a demo.

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to loom, practices will need to continue to adjust their processes and workflows to keep their staff and patients safe and their business viable.  Telehealth is one option that may be able to assist.  Now is the time to revisit this method of treatment delivery so you can continue to provide the care your patients need in a safe environment.  In addition, looking into the future, telehealth may actually end up being a positive adjunct to your business instead of just a necessity.