Telehealth, the use of electronic communication to remotely provide health care information and services, is gaining more and more attention as providers, patients, and payers all seek more effective and cost-efficient ways to deliver care. Physical therapy is no exception, and while those services have developed mostly in rural areas to accommodate the long distances between patients and providers, telehealth in physical therapy is being considered in other geographic and clinical settings. (See APTA's Board of Directors definition and guidelines on telehealth.)
This isn't to say that you should jump right in and begin providing services via telehealth. You'll first need to consider federal and state legislation and regulations that govern your practice, risk management implications, billing and coding issues, and hardware/software requirements. The resources below aren't meant to give you detailed instructions on developing and using telehealth in your practice, but they identify areas most important for you to investigate and consider.
Telehealth and the FiRST Council
Telehealth is part of APTA's Frontiers in Research, Science, and Technology (FiRST) Council. FiRST grew out of identification of high priority areas to advance science and innovation that our profession needs to understand and incorporate into our practice, education, and research.
FiRST is intended to serve as a community for interested stakeholders. Ideas generated by the council may be implemented by participants' stakeholder groups (sections, academies, external groups, APTA, etc) at the discretion of each entity's governing body.
Why Use Telehealth
The complex US health care system is under a tremendous amount of pressure. Many traditional health care business models are designed to allow high-volume, low-cost procedures to offset the costs of low- volume, high-cost procedures. An upward shift in the aging population is projected to result in a large increase in demand for health care, and new legislation such as the Affordable Care Act has added uncertainty to the future of health care business models and payment. Telehealth is projected to grow worldwide to 1.8 million users by 2017, according to the World Market of Telehealth.
In physical therapy, our patients/clients are asking for more time-efficient and less costly care models. Their busy lifestyles also can make it difficult for them to attend traditional appointments.
Applications of telehealth in physical therapy already have roots that expand throughout patient/client care and consultation, as it allows PTs to better communicate with patients/clients and provide more flexible care. Telehealth will not replace traditional clinical care. However, it will give PTs and PTAs the flexibility to provide services in a greater capacity. Examples:
- Patients typically in clinical or hospital settings could be managed from their homes
- Quicker screening, assessment, and referrals can improve care coordination within collaborative delivery models such as accountable care organizations or patient-centered medical homes
- Telehealth can facilitate consultation between providers or in clinical education
Before You Begin Practicing Via Telehealth
Investigate and consider the issues within the following areas as you make decisions on whether or not to use telehealth in your practice. In addition, become familiar with some of the commonly used terms in telehealth.
Telehealth in Physical Therapy: CSM 2014 Video Interview