Of all the services that have shifted online in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the use of telemedicine in particular has skyrocketed – and for good reason. As reported by the American Medical Association, telehealth was already poised for significant growth long before the novel coronavirus turned our world upside down, and new platforms are making it easier than ever for physicians to provide expert care while patients stay safe at home.
But what about telemedicine when it comes to a specialty that’s typically hands-on, like physical therapy? Given health concerns and stay-at-home orders, going virtual sounds great but can online physical therapy actually be effective?
According to top physical therapists at Altair Health, the answer is yes – absolutely.
“Virtual physical therapy is a great way for patients to be able to follow their plan of care without having to come directly to the facility,” says Dr. Julia Marceca. “Patients continue to be under the supervision of their therapist and can be guided to perform specific exercises appropriate for their diagnosis with the correct techniques.”
“While online visits preclude manual therapies, therapists can still ensure the correct muscles and joints are targeted with individualized stretches and exercises,” Lisa A. Coscia, a licensed physical therapist assistant, adds. “Online or in person, the goal and outcomes are still the same: to improve a patient’s mobility and quality of life.”
Not only can virtual physical therapy be highly effective, it offers a host of other benefits that may surprise you. Online physical therapy:
Furthers patients’ independence. “Virtual physical therapy actually encompasses the core of what we do as clinicians – that is, further our patients’ independence by enabling them to self-manage their symptoms and the progression of therapeutic activities in their home environment,” says Dr. Janelle Giresi. “Exercise prescription and movement analysis is our expertise as physical therapists, and we can do this very effectively through telehealth.”
Highlights how much progress can be made at home. “Patients often don’t realize how much they can achieve by following an individualized plan of care at home,” says Dr. Michael Lampman. “A silver lining of having to stay at home is that patients are seeing how much progress they can make and are also gaining confidence in their ability to advance their functionality mobility, even when they’re not in the gym with their therapist. Many patients who were first skeptical of virtual physical therapy sessions are now loving them – and the progress they are making.
Reduces stress and improves respiratory health. “It’s more important than ever to stay physically active during this difficult time,” says Dr. Lampman. “Moving and exercising – including physical therapy – can reduce overall stress levels, improve respiratory status and improve overall health.” “Don’t forget that physical activity causes the release of endorphins, which are the ‘feel good’ hormones that boost your mood and general health,” Dr. Giresi adds.
Helps increase the effectiveness of at-home workouts. While patients are provided an individualized plan of care regardless of where therapy takes place, the personalized recommendations for effective at-home exercises are especially valuable while gyms are closed and as online workouts generally cater to the masses. “Always reach out to your physical therapist if you’re in need of ideas for new exercises,” says Dr. Marceca. “We’re here to help!”
Strengthens the immune system. “Human connection strengthens the immune system, and while social distancing measures are in place, online physical therapy visits provide patients another avenue to connect with a partner who is not only supportive of their physical health … but also of their general wellbeing,” Dr. Lampman notes.