Building connection virtually: making the most out of Telehealth physical therapy
Updated: Sep 24, 2022
Physical Therapists are more than musculoskeletal experts. We are healers by nature. We learn about our patients by being in their presence, learning their history, asking about their personal goals and assessing their motion, joints, muscle tone, tenderness and function. So much of what we do is about feeling and intuition; how tissues move, what elicits pain, how our patients respond. As pelvic floor specialists, we have the opportunity to talk about and address dysfunction in patients that rarely get discussed with their healthcare providers (or anyone for that matter). It is intimate, meaningful work and our hands are one of our most important tools.
I personally spent the first couple of weeks in quarantine feeling defeated. I had lost not only my livelihood, but a career I deeply love and believe in. Now, the only manual work I was doing was kneading pasta dough out of pure boredom and the need to find a new hobby. I worried about my patients. That they would lose progress and regress. I worried about my expecting mothers and how they were handling the stress of it all. I worried about my manual skills and practice; that I would get rusty and out of tune. I ceased all home visits for the time being for the safety of my patients and myself. Colleagues of mine, including myself, were laid off, furloughed or turned part time due to census. I never thought I’d find myself in this position.
Quarantine has had an interesting toll on my family. My husband and I are small business owners, specifically in service based industries (personal training and physical therapy). Our professions require appointment based schedules, which went away almost immediately at the start of quarantine. I took the leap of faith to go out on my own at the beginning of 2020, so I was really only about 2.5 months into being full time when this started. Prior to that, I owned my business but had a few other part time positions that provided a little more security to our family. Almost overnight, we had to work on shifting our businesses online and learning how to manage our day taking shifts with our 16 month old. Let’s just say, there have been good days and bad days! I also had several reservations about Telehealth and how it would impact the care I could give my patients.
So, you can imagine our trepidation when so much of the field went virtual in the midst of a pandemic.
Colleagues in the field had the same thoughts - “How can we provide patient care virtually?!” Physical. Therapy. Physical… it is in the name! How could we provide PHYSICAL therapy services without being PHYSICALLY present? Yes, we love working with our hands and it is an invaluable tool but, more importantly, we teach patients how to help heal themselves and manage their symptoms. The end goal is to make patients independent and to give them the tools to do so. We are educators. Many physical therapy practices offered Telehealth prior to the coronavirus outbreak - we now know that it went wildly underutilized. A service once deemed dispensable has become the primary source of treatment: Telehealth.
Telehealth is the treatment of a patient through a phone or computer. Many doctors offices and clinics have adapted to virtual visits to ensure patient and employee safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. While it has its limitations, there are also some great advantages to seeing your physical therapist online:
Convenience. There is no getting stuck in traffic or sitting in a waiting room. Want to have your session in PJ’s while the kids are doing school work? No judgement here!
Choice. There is no shortage of providers across the country; and you can see any one one of them! Your pool of providers is limitless. Many areas are limited by access and specialty. A pelvic floor PT can also help find the closest specialist for when you are able to go in person.
Cost. Because we understand the value of and are unable to provide manual therapy at this time - you are getting information and education at a fraction of the cost. It makes our lives easier too! By the time we are able to see you in person, we would have already gone through the bulk of your past medical history, bowel/bladder habits and goal setting before seeing you! That means more time for hands-on and personalized exercise prescription.
Can-do! Patients have no choice but to help themselves right now - and we are able to guide them. Both of us have seen the benefits of telehealth already; helping patients mitigate pelvic pain and dysfunction through management techniques and therapeutic exercise. The old adage about feeding a man or teaching him to fish rings true! There is a very empowering sense of control for people when they learn how to use techniques to heal themselves.
Out of drastic situations often come beautiful realizations. Yes, there are limitations to Telehealth physical therapy, but we’ve also experienced how it can benefit our patients, especially in such stressful times. So much of what we do involves education and activity management. If you doubt whether Telehealth or virtual PT is for you, please feel free to reach out to us. We would be happy to help find the best solution for YOU.
“Tough times don’t last, tough people do.”
Wishing you health, happiness and safety as always,
Dr. Carly & Dr. Katie