Integrating Teleconferencing into your therapy practice may sound like something from the Jetsons TV show, but Speech Language Pathologists are boldly moving forward into this new frontier, and other therapists may soon follow their lead. Telepractice, as defined by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), is the use of telecommunication technology to connect the clinician with a patient to provide services from a distance. These online treatment sessions are also referred to as telehealth or telerehabilitation sessions.
Much of the impetus for telepractice comes from organizations who are eager to make previously unavailable healthcare resources available to underserved patients; such as rural, urban, and frontier populations. The Health Resources and Services Administration sponsors four grant programs that are designed to remove barriers to Telehealth. Currently, the most prominent barriers are as follows:
- Start Up Costs of Purchasing the Electronic Devices that are necessary tools for these treatments.
- Licensing and Regulations Discrepancies Between States
- Training for staff in how to use these technologies.
- Research and Evaluation to determine best practices and effectiveness of these treatment options.
Licensing for telepractice is especially cumbersome. To practice in all the states where they might teleconference, Therapists are currently forced to apply for multiple state licenses. The American Telemedicine Association’s Telerehabilitation Special Interest Group has begun lobbying for uniformity and portability in state license requirements, to eliminate this obstacle.
Telehealth for physical and occupational therapy: is it feasible?
What about hands-on therapy and face-to-face communication? Aren’t these indispensible parts of Physical and Occupational Therapy? Won’t valuable insights be lost in translating these practices to telepractice? Some treatments are incompatible with electronic transmission. Massage and Manual Manipulations are definitely hands on treatment options. It’s possible that telehealth will never replace therapy appointments, but will instead be limited to supplementing hands-on therapy with online exercise demonstrations, workout supervision, and secure patient communication tools.
But there is so much to be gained in accessibility and convenience of telerehabilitation, that many patients will eagerly welcome a virtual visit with a therapist, rather than no visit at all! Therapists who embrace these technologies will be the pioneers of a new kind of medicine that reaches the masses. One therapist can give an explanation of a certain condition, record it, and share it with patients all around the world. That’s revolutionary!
New technology paves the way
Several technology companies are beginning to introduce products that therapists could use to treat patients. One such product is Kinect from Microsoft, which includes a 3D motion sensor and allows patients and therapists to interact in real time, just as they would at an office appointment.
New Software has been developed to provide an audio-visual connection between the therapist and the patient. Secure, HD platforms (for example GoToMeeting, Polycom and Vidyo) are best because they comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and allow for simultaneous live video streaming, screen sharing, and shared presenter controls (both client and clinician can manipulate on-screen content).
Payment policy questions
Telehealth services are not exactly the same as in-person therapy appointments, and insurances and billing practices are charting new territory in developing billing codes. In general, insurances are looking for money saving options, so if these practices cost less to the patient, they will have the support of large payers, encouraging the adoption of these practices. The Affordable Care Act also supports advances in technology and healthcare. The reimbursement for these services is certainly something to keep and eye on.
It’s important to be prepared for the future
As the world continues to embrace technology in almost all aspects of our lives, the healthcare industry must be prepared for what’s to come. The best way for therapists to do this is to remain aware and informed of possible changes in treatment. Telerehabilitation seems to be a question of when and how.
What do you think?
As the technologies needed for telerehabiltiation continue to improve, will we see a revolution in healthcare, similar to the way online classes are revolutionizing education?
Are you looking for a change?
As with technology, change can be good! If you’re a physical or occupational therapist, or speech language pathologist looking for a new career, check out PT Solutions. We are a nationwide placement company for physical therapist jobs. To learn more, contact PT Solutions today.