The American Physical Therapy Association recognizes telehealth as a well‐defined and established method of health services delivery. Physical therapists provide services using telehealth as part of their scope of practice, incorporating elements of patient and client management as needed, to enhance patient and client interactions.
- Inclusion of physical therapist services in telehealth policy and regulation on the national and state levels to help society address the growing cost of health services, the disparity in accessibility of health services, and the potential impact of health workforce shortages.
- Advancement of telehealth practice, education, and research within the physical therapy profession to enhance the quality and accessibility of physical therapist services.
- Expansion of broadband access to enable all members of society to receive services delivered via electronic means.
APTA also asserts that physical therapist practice and the practice of physical therapy are synonymous. Both phrases include patient and client management, and direction and supervision of the physical therapist assistant, who is the only individual who assists a physical therapist in practice. Other support personnel, whether in the performance of tasks or clerical activities, contribute to the efficient operation of the physical therapy clinic or organization.
APTA is closely monitoring the growth in number and penetration of companies entering the digital space with products and services for telehealth care delivery and remote monitoring. With the onset of COVID-19 and greater acceptance of telehealth, the presence of these vendors has increased along with intense marketing to health plans, employers, and consumers.
An environmental scan of these companies shows that they are not all the same. Some offer technologies that are valuable adjuncts to physical therapist care. Others offer remote services without intervention of a licensed physical therapist, but they are being represented as physical therapy to address musculoskeletal issues.
While APTA recognizes telehealth as a component of physical therapist practice, we challenge any reference to physical therapy by technology companies, products, or applications for products that are not directed and delivered by a physical therapist. The practice of physical therapy is performed only by physical therapists and by physical therapist assistants under the supervision of a physical therapist.
These technologies fall into four general areas:
- Platforms designed to support physical therapists in physical facilities in the provision of services via telehealth.
- Physical therapy practice models that are virtual only.
- Virtual and digital tools that are useful to physical therapists and help patients and clients comply with home exercise and self-management programs.
- Virtual and digital tools that purport to provide physical therapy but use avatars or nonphysical therapy personnel to deliver services.
A technology is not a virtual skilled provider or service. Technologies designed to gather data for analysis or to support patients in the effective performance of exercise or activities are not physical therapy. Physical therapists and other providers may use these technologies as important adjunctive tools to enhance care, decrease the necessary frequency of face-to-face care, and support optimal patient activation and engagement. In some cases, these tools may meet all of an individual's needs, but that determination can only be made once a patient has undergone appropriate examination and evaluation. Services provided are not physical therapy unless a physical therapist performs an examination and evaluation and develops a plan of care, and the care is delivered by a physical therapist or by a physical therapist assistant under the supervision of a physical therapist.
APTA continues to support state term and title protection laws that reserve use of the terms "physical therapy" and "physical therapist" solely for licensed physical therapists, to ensure accurate portrayal of services to the public and to promote consumer protection.