The widespread adoption of telehealth or virtual healthcare appointments began during the pandemic, but they seem to be here to stay. In fact, studies show virtual visits are increasing in popularity. However, some forms of healthcare lend themselves better to virtual visits than others. For instance, discussing cold or flu symptoms with a physician via a zoom call is relatively easy, while performing hands-on physical therapy is impossible. Even so, many physical therapists are offering a telehealth option – usually after evaluating and treating patients in person.
While virtual visits are convenient, they do pose some challenges for both the physical therapist and the patient. It can be difficult to demonstrate the proper form for doing exercises on a screen, which increases the risk that patients might injure themselves or make matters worse. It also eliminates the ability to manipulate muscles or use techniques such as dry needling or TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation), which can be very effective. Still, there is a place for virtual sessions.
If you or your physical therapist (PT) are considering telehealth appointments, the following can help you get the most of your sessions:
Take a Hybrid Approach – Instead of making all your visits virtual, suggest a hybrid approach. See your PT in person for evaluation and diagnosis and then follow the treatment plan virtually with regular in-person check ins. Make sure your PT is available to answer questions outside of appointments.
Use Video Conferencing – Virtual appointments should include video so exercises can be properly demonstrated and your PT can observe you as you perform them. Ask for detailed instructions with photos of the exercises so you can refer to them when you’re exercising on your own.
Try a Physical Therapy App – Mobile apps such as Exer Health’s motion AI platform can measure a patient’s range of motion and form so your PT can review your performance. Ask your PT if they use this new technology in their practice.
Make Space to Exercise – Be sure you have an open space where you can perform the exercises and stretches required during your virtual therapy session. You should have enough room to be seen clearly (full body) by your webcam and move freely without worrying about hitting furniture or other objects. The space should also be free of potential hazards such as loose rugs, toys, lamps, and even small animals.
Test your Equipment – Prior to your appointment, be sure your device is working properly and connected to the internet. Test your speakers and camera to ensure proper communication. You don’t want to waste valuable appointment time troubleshooting your equipment or re-establishing a lost connection.
Dress Comfortably, but Not Baggy – It’s important to wear comfortable clothes or workout wear that allows you to move unhindered. However, if your clothing is too loose or baggy, the therapist will have difficulty seeing your form and making assessments/corrections.
Get off the Floor with a PhysioBoard – When you visit a PT clinic, you’re able to perform exercises on an elevated surface such as an exercise table. For many patients, particularly after hip, knee, or back surgery/injury, getting down and up from the floor is impossible. So, how can you continue to perform these exercises at home? Use a PhysioBoard. This unique, lightweight (only 11 pounds) yet sturdy board transforms any bed into a raised exercise platform. It provides the proper surface to exercise and stretch with good form (unlike a mattress which has too much give). Simply place the PhysioBoard on your bed to exercise and stretch and remove it when you’re done. You can easily store it behind a door or in a closet – no bulky exercise table to take up space.
The PhysioBoard was designed by a physical therapist, in conjunction with an engineer, to help people exercise and stretch without getting down and up from the floor. People who have used it, love it – including physical therapists!
Telehealth options can help patients connect with healthcare professionals wherever they may be. It allows patients to receive personalized care on their own schedule and from the comfort of their own home. But it’s important to make these virtual visits as productive as possible. Physical therapy can help you recover from an injury or surgery, alleviate pain, increase range of motion, and improve mobility – but only if patients and therapists work together to make the most of their sessions.