Before the COVID-19 pandemic and before the rehab therapy industry’s recent move towards value-based care reimbursement, telehealth wasn’t a widely discussed topic in most circles. However, in response to COVID, the debate on the efficiency and effectiveness of telehealth was thrust into the foreground.
Specifically, people wanted to know how the technology-driven medium stacked up against classic in-person care. Are the results as effective? Is this something we should consider for our patients?
In the past, there were limited resources to answer these critical questions. In response, Focus on Therapeutic Outcomes (FOTO), a Net Health company, conducted a research study1 to examine the efficiency and effectiveness of telehealth in the rehab therapy space.
The study used propensity score matching (PSM) to look at over 40,000 episodes-of-care. Researchers looked at three metrics across varying levels of telehealth use—functional status outcomes, the average number of visits, and patient satisfaction with the treatment results.
The results of the study showed three main reasons why telehealth-administered therapy care is just as effective as in-person care.
1) Telehealth Delivers Where It Counts
Out of all the questions we can ask about telehealth, one stands out as the most important—how well does telehealth work compared to in-person care for rehab therapy? If the answer were anything less than equally as effective, we’d owe it to our patients to opt for a different path forward.
But here’s the good news. The FOTO research study showed that telehealth and non-telehealth care episodes were equally as effective in improving patients’ functional status. This fact alone should serve as the foundational go-ahead to explore the other potential benefits telehealth can bring to our patients and our practices.
2) Telehealth Got There With Fewer Visits
Not only was telehealth equally effective in driving measurable results for patients in the study, but those results were achieved through an average of two to three fewer visits. And while a deeper look at additional variables could help to provide more color to this point, the data here clearly suggests the presence of a higher efficiency of care. If providers can get patients the same results with fewer visits, this means healthcare savings and an optimal road to results for the patient.
3) Telehealth Hits the Mark With Patients
All of these benefits are moot if our patients aren’t happy with the care they’re receiving. In a competitive industry where referrals and building raving fans are paramount to success, it’s all about patient satisfaction. When it came to all levels of telehealth care observed in the study, patients reported equal levels of satisfaction. In other words, patients who received all telehealth visits, some telehealth visits, or no telehealth visits were equally satisfied with the results of their treatment.
This completes a powerful equation—equally efficient results in fewer visits with patients just as happy with the results of their care.
An Important Bottom Line
For most of us, this information gets the proverbial wheels turning about possibly implementing telehealth into our plans. But the idea of a complete transformation of how we interact with patients is scary.
Here’s arguably the most important takeaway from the FOTO study. These efficiency benefits were present at every single level of intensity of telehealth care. Patients who only got some care via telehealth all the way to patients that got all care via telehealth showed the same benefits.
What this means is that you don’t have to go all-in on telehealth to start seeing benefits. By simply working in some level of telehealth care for the appropriate patients, you can start to see real results.
View Webinar for More Information on Results and Findings
Hear from FOTO Coordinator of External Research, Mark Werneke, PT, MS, Dip. MDT on this ground-breaking study conducted by our partners at FOTO.
1 “Overview of Telehealth and Outcomes in Rehabilitation,” Mark Werneke, PT, MS, Dip. MDT, Daniel Deutscher, PT, PhD, Deanna Hayes, PT, DPT, MS