Saying that 2020 has been a roller coaster of a year that has required innovative thinking and imaginative adaptability in the rehab therapy industry could qualify as the understatement of the decade. Required social distancing as a result of COVID-19 and the recent industry shift from volume-based to value-based care reimbursement have thrust creative treatment solutions like telehealth into the limelight.
While many of us within the rehab therapy community have theorized about the efficacy of telehealth, minimal evidence existed to back up these claims—until now. Focus on Therapeutic Outcomes (FOTO), a Net Health company that provides outcomes management software for rehab therapists, is releasing a research study1 that answers many of our top telehealth questions and can help better guide our next steps as we close out the ride that is 2020 and prepare for 2021.
Overview of the Net Health Research Study
During FOTO’s recently completed study, the researchers utilized propensity score matching (PSM), a sophisticated method that simulates a randomized controlled trial design and ensures an apples to apples comparison between groups of patients that did and did not receive telehealth as any component of care. The study looked at over 40,000 episodes-of-care focusing on functional status outcomes, number of visits, and patient satisfaction with treatment results.
Using PSM, patients were grouped similarly according to 98 variables, and compared across four levels of telehealth care:
- Less than half of visits using telehealth
- More than half of visits using telehealth
- All treatment visits using telehealth.
- Any level of telehealth (includes all three of the above levels)
These four levels of care intensity were compared to care delivered through traditional face-to-face interactions looking at the following key performance indicators:
- Functional status outcomes
- Number of visits at rehabilitation discharge
- Patient satisfaction with treatment results
Instead of guessing how well telehealth works, if it’s as effective as face-to-face care, and what patients think about it, we can now turn to data to get definitive answers to all three of these questions.
Are the functional results from telehealth comparable to in-office visits?
The data confirms that both telehealth and non-telehealth treatments were equally effective for improving the patient’s functional status across all measured intensity levels.
Does telehealth provide measurable efficiency benefits?
Patients using any intensity level of telehealth care saw an average of 2-3 fewer visits than patients only utilizing face-to-face care. The data suggests that telehealth may promote greater efficiency of care, opening up the doors to significant savings for patients and payers.
What do patients think about telehealth vs. face-to-face care?
Regardless of the type of care provided, patients were equally satisfied with their therapy care. There were no notable advantages in satisfaction when only face-to-face care was utilized.
What does this mean for us?
The results of this data study provide a lot of information that we can use to plan our next steps forward with telehealth. Some actionable next steps to consider in light of these findings include:
- Begin to integrate some telehealth visits for the appropriate patients. It doesn’t have to be an all or none solution.
- Give patients telehealth “booster” visits between in-person visits to drive better results.
- Get a step ahead of the growing trend by integrating telehealth with your EHR system for recordkeeping, HIPAA compliance, efficient billing, and accurate reimbursements.
1. Overview of Telehealth and Outcomes in Rehabilitation,” Mark Werneke, PT, MS, Dip. MDT, Daniel Deutscher, PT, PhD, Deanna Hayes, PT, DPT, MS