The pandemic has ushered in the dawn of the hyperconnected consumer in almost every industry, including healthcare.
Pre-pandemic data shows that most patient care was provided in person, with telehealth accounting for less than 10% of all visits. This was mainly due to three reasons: 1) payment systems and processes did not support virtual care; 2) neither patients nor providers felt the need to change; and 3) there was a misperception that virtual care is inferior to in-person care.
The pandemic clearly swung the pendulum the other way. After the spring of 2020, about 90% of patient care was done virtually out of necessity. Stalled digital transformation initiatives were suddenly rushed to a halt as vendors were forced to create virtual platforms in a matter of months, not years. Insurance regulations were relaxed, making it easier to reimburse equivalent to in-person visits. Relaxed security requirements also allowed vendors to move more quickly.
And then came a surprise. While many worked and studied remotely in the hope of a short-term end in sight, it turned out that most patients actually enjoyed virtual care due to its accessibility and convenience. For many providers, changing practice models and figuring out how to do things virtually was still a challenge.
And then, when the pandemic became something to live with, the patient sentiment changed again. Patients began to balk at paying the same costs for a virtual exam as an in-person exam. There was also concern that things might be overlooked or virtually overlooked when they would have been noticed with an in-person visit.
The highs of hybrid care at a low time
As in the world of work, the end result was that more patients began clamoring for hybrid options. Is easy to see why. A virtual visit takes the stress out of taking time off work or arranging for child care. Perhaps surprisingly, telehealth often allows doctors to connect better with their patients than in person due to the sustained eye contact that can be made on the screen. It is also more private. It literally allows healthcare professionals to meet their patients wherever they are.
There is even evidence that the addition of telemedicine can produce results equal to those of in-person care. A study comparing telemedicine and in-person clinics found comparable results for diabetes, hypertension, and kidney disease. Telemedicine patients also reported being very satisfied with their care. A study from Cigna’s telehealth arm, MDLive, also found that patients who participated in telehealth saw 19% fewer visits to the ER or urgent care.
And yet, only 47% of physical therapy clinics offer telehealth services according to recent WebPT survey results. Clinics that have not yet started offering hybrid options face not only patient satisfaction but also negative consequences among their therapist base due to the convergence of macro forces, such as a tight job market, tremendous burnout among physical therapists, and worsening inflation in 40 years. .
The industry is expected to need more than 15,000 new physical therapists each year, and despite thousands joining the field, the industry is still unable to keep up with the demand. Many recent graduates, the same Gen Z and millennial consumers driving the rapid acceleration toward digital in all aspects of life and work, are eager for a virtual care practice environment due to improved access to information. attention, the convenience of a remote work model. and the clinical evidence supporting the effectiveness of virtual physical therapy. A therapist can see more patients virtually than in person, achieving a one-to-many model. Virtual also allows you to increase access to care; consider the patient who may have difficulty paying bus fare or face long travel times to get to a clinic in person.
Then there is the income generating factor. In January, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services launched a set of new reimbursement codes that allow providers to bill payers using Remote Therapeutic Monitoring, or RTM, codes for digital musculoskeletal services related to technology that measures adherence. of the patient to therapy and response to therapy. Since more digital services are reimbursable, RTM codes provide incentives for therapists to provide care at home, opening up new revenue streams.
Putting it all into practice
There is no winding of the clock. Even if it was spawned by the crisis, telehealth is now critical to the survival of the physical therapy industry. Because patients, like consumers, simply want more options. They may go to a clinic in person one month and want virtual care the next. It is up to physical therapists to give their patients this flexibility. If you try to go back to previous models, it will fail. Instead, you need to find a strong partner who can help you build a new, future-proof model.
Today there is technology that allows patients to simply use a smartphone to do their physical therapy exercises and get recommendations from their provider based on objective and subjective data. Smartphone sensor technology helps therapists monitor how patients are doing with real-world exercises and share meaningful information that helps them stick to their treatment plan. Intuitive platforms allow providers to easily generate progress reports on any patient.
Much of our healthcare market is reactive, but with the right technology and partnerships, we can push the entire clinical model upstream to move into prevention mode, not crisis mode.
Photo: Liubomyr Vorona, Getty Images