2020 has been a year of uncertainty that has motivated many within the rehab therapy community to seek innovative and adaptive ways to continue delivering the highest level of care possible. Highlighted by the need for social distancing in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have turned to telehealth to see if it can provide assistance to our practices and our patients.
Recently, Focus on Therapeutic Outcomes (FOTO), a Net Health company, conducted a research study to compare telehealth vs. in-person care. The study looked at functional status outcomes, the number of visits required, and patient satisfaction with results of treatment.
The groundbreaking study quickly identified several benefits telehealth can provide for rehab therapists and therapy companies. Now, instead of guessing how telehealth might affect our patients and practices, we can make better-informed decisions backed by data.
1) Proof of Effectiveness During Pandemic
The strongest proof of concept for anything is how well it functions under the toughest conditions. The recent FOTO study analyzed telehealth episodes of care during the months of May and June 2020, as challenges for rehab therapists were high as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The timing of this study goes above and beyond to prove the effectiveness of telehealth, as well as support the significance of the data.
Additionally, as the future of COVID-19 is still uncertain, the study proves the effectiveness of telehealth in providing flexible care options during a pandemic. Telehealth can promote patient confidence, drive better attendance numbers, and sustain the continuity of care for existing patients.
2) Extended Reach After COVID-19
While the data supports the effectiveness of telehealth during a pandemic, it also provides evidence for opportunities after COVID-19 to extend care to patients who might not be able to receive in-person care.
The study data shows that telehealth and non-telehealth were equally effective when it comes to improving the functional status of patients. Further, the benefits were present at all intensity levels of telehealth. This means that rehab therapists can integrate the level of telehealth they’re comfortable with in line with what’s best for the patient. It doesn’t have to be an all or none treatment plan to see results.
3) Ability to Provide Care for Hard-To-Reach Populations
The FOTO database shows that the fastest-growing patient group in rehab therapy is people over the age of 50. Nearly 49% of patients in the database have chronic conditions, and 65% have three or more comorbidities.
A growing elderly and medically complex patient population presents a great opportunity for telehealth to shine. Patients who live in rural areas with geographical challenges, and patients who may struggle to leave their homes can now more easily receive care.
4) Reinforcing In-Person Care
As mentioned, the study shows that the benefits of telehealth are present even when treatment is a mix of face-to-face care and telehealth. This provides unique opportunities to augment in-person care with telehealth for a better overall patient experience.
One way this could work is by offering patients “booster” visits in-between regularly scheduled in-person visits. These additional telehealth visits can provide an opportunity for therapists to improve self-care practices, provide continuing education, and drive better patient outcomes.
And if you’re concerned about the costs of adding in additional visits, the data brings up an important point in response. On average, implementing telehealth into a patient’s treatment plan reduced the total number of visits by two to three visits.
5) Patient Satisfaction with Telehealth
An important question that may have deterred rehab therapists and therapy companies from implementing telehealth in the past is how will this affect patient satisfaction? In a competitive market, patient satisfaction is imperative for marketing, referrals, reviews, keeping current business, and building raving fans.
Data from the FOTO study directly answers this question. Patients across all intensity levels of telehealth vs. patients only receiving face-to-face care were equally satisfied with the results of their treatment. Including telehealth in the treatment plan produced no decrease in the level of satisfaction.
In other words, telehealth allows us to provide the same results in fewer visits while still maintaining a high-level of patient satisfaction.
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FOTO Coordinator of External Research, Mark Werneke, PT, MS, Dip. MDT, presents an overview of the study with data and insights.