On March 23, 2020 the state of Michigan declared shelter at home orders.
This order essentially declared the majority of rehabilitation services as non-essential.
What initially seemed manageable soon turned into a massive hammer stroke on our economic, emotional, and psychological state.
First, my neighbor was laid off. Then a good friend who is a mechanical engineer permanently lost his job. Other friends reported wage reductions, mandatory PTO usage, and partial work hours. It is hard to find a family that has not been affected by Covid-19.
The burden, stress, and hardships are evident. But, for physical, occupational, and speech and language pathologists could post Covid-19 rehabilitation actually be better than before?
I recently interviewed four private practice owners who were surprisingly positive and hopeful that rehabilitation may come through this crisis better off than it was before.
Before we explore the potential benefits I know that many of us are experiencing economic hardship. Our revenue streams are decimated. Some of you may be opening your doors now and find only a portion of the patient levels you had previously.
The economic hardships are real and raw for most. I understand that the following benefits come at a high economic price. But for a moment, let’s reflect on the good that may come from this crisis.
First, the first bright spot from Covid-19 may be rehabilitation telehealth services.
Telehealth may be here to stay per the outpatient physical therapists I have interviewed. Telehealth offers increased flexibility of schedule for patients because they don’t have to drive. It opens up time frames such as lunch hours, before work window for treatment that didn’t exist before.
Telehealth provides a window into the true functionality of the patient in his/her environment.
Now you can observe and provide instruction on the best biomechanics of placing the child in the car seat or get the laundry out of the dryer. Telehealth also challenges the therapist to engage the patient as a learner more.
We no longer have our hands to guide that patient. Now we are focused on facilitating the patient to learn the correct movement, feel the tension of a particular muscle, or feel the facilitation of a weak muscle.
Lastly, telehealth broadens the reach for underserved areas.
Now a Physical therapist in Grand Rapids, Michigan can help a patient in the Upper Peninsula with their chronic pain. Likewise a women’s health practitioner in Kalamazoo can treat a patient in Midland. Telehealth clearly opens the door to more diverse and open treatment options for patients.
Second, perhaps we all can take this opportunity to see our rehabilitation profession with renewed appreciation.
I have not worked with a patient for 7 weeks. As I reflect, I realize that for the last couple of years I have not appreciated the gift of physical therapy. I have missed the day to day opportunity to work with patients, watch them improve, and assist in meeting their goals. Since Covid-19, I now have a renewed appreciation for the gift of being a physical therapist.
Even if your hours were not reduced, such as school employees, therapists were faced with the stressful challenge to deliver rehabilitation services in a different way.
We all experienced a significant change to either how we worked or the amount of time we spent in providing rehab services.
I would love to hear your views on how rehabilitation will be affected by post-Covid-19. Please share your comments below.