Today, many people associate telehealth with only Skype-like interactions. But what we think of as such a modern, video-based idea has actually been in use for decades. In fact, Alexander Graham Bell used it in 1876 when he telephoned his assistant Mr. Watson after spilling acid on his trousers. Was that telehealth? Certainly, not as we know it now. But even today, perceptions of what telehealth really is and how effectively it can be used are dated and inaccurate.
Thinking of telehealth as only a live video-based interaction is a limited view of its capabilities.
To know it’s potential, you have to understand there are two different approaches to telehealth: synchronous and asynchronous. Both terms are based on synchronizing information or working together. The difference is in how that information is shared.
Synchronous is real time, immediate back and forth conversations (imagine online video discussions).
Asynchronous is information with varying degrees of time lag, from almost imperceptible to longer delays (things like instant audio, text messaging, feedback reports and email communication).
Live online video conference is a typical example of how synchronous telehealth can work between PT and patient. But in many cases, asynchronous telehealth can be an equally useful if not a more practical and powerful tool for a PT. Why? Largely because it gives the PT and patient more flexibility in how, when and at what pace they communicate.
The idea of what telehealth is and how it can be used is changing the medical landscape.
A study released by RAND in March, 2017, shows rapid growth in the use of telehealth. But it isn’t necessarily replacing in-person visits. In fact, according to Thomas Beaton of MHealthIntelligence, “12 percent of telehealth use replaced office and emergency room visits while 88 percent represented new use of medical services.”
According to Eric Wicklund of mHealthIntelligence,
“ A survey by UPMC’s Center for Connected Medicine of the nation’s largest health systems
found that 58 percent are offering mental health services through telemedicine and
digital health platforms, while one third are planning on adding the service.”
One such example utilizes virtual coaches assigned to patients in which they can log into a website to complete a weekly asynchronous telehealth exercise. A team member screens the data on a regular basis and provides feedback.
This example uses some combination of asynchronous telehealth to share medical information electronically (such as digital images, documents, pre-recorded videos and text messaging ) through either a secure email transmission or an application platform).
Likewise, physical therapists can help patients create a complete, customized experience with an app like that offered by In Hand Health. It becomes an extension of a PT clinic’s value, cementing the therapist/patient relationship through meaningful interaction between sessions. Through this multi-channel telehealth application, PT’s are able to stay connected with their patients without sacrificing cornerstone of PT/patient engagement: human interaction and connection.
Think about this within your PT practice and why more and more patients value telehealth:
- They don’t have to be online at a specific time, instead enjoying the flexibility and freedom of engaging on their own schedule.
- Patients can digest and internalize information at their own pace.
- It gives patients time to compile a list of thought-out questions they have for their PT before their visit, making their session together more productive.
- It’s also an invaluable tool for PTs who can balance and control the form and timing of the telehealth experience.
By helping patients feel more empowered and demonstrating value beyond the clinic walls, PTs build patient engagement and increase value for face to face clinic sessions. As you can see, the Skype-like model of telehealth may not always be the right one.
The potential risks of real-time telehealth in a PT practice
Both synchronous and asynchronous telehealth encourages meaningful interactions between providers and patients. The use of video, secure messaging and tracking information to keep up with patients between visits improves both the quality of care at home and the use of time during an appointment.
But in the changing world of PT services, today’s challenge is how to find new patients and stay connected with current patients. Physical interaction with patients is critical for any PT treatment plan, i.e. applying pressure points to certain joints; testing muscle function, range of motion and flexibility; and making sure that exercises are performed accurately. Telehealth cannot replace these in-person assessments. But used correctly – capitalizing on both synchronous and asynchronous tools – telehealth can be a relationship-building experience for both PT and patient that encourages ongoing interactions and encourages future clinic visits.
The future is “Total Care” not simply “telehealth”
In Hand Health has developed an app-based solution to help physical therapists provide better care for their patients while enhancing therapist/patient interaction. Their platform encompasses the entire spectrum of patient care and engagement – from hands on therapy to HEP to patient monitoring to messaging to telehealth. From numerous and extensive pilots and trials, they learned that integrating telehealth is part of total care, not the destination.
- PTs can upload customizable videos and educational information relevant to each patient that they can download on their own smartphones.
- Through a HIPPA-compliant messaging system you can send text, audio, images and videos, giving your patients the freedom to engage and respond on their own schedule – instantly or later.
- A progress tracker (our CaRe Index®) allows you to check up on your patients and offer encouragement between sessions.
- You can build on the spot content during a patient visit that is tailored to the unique needs of your patient.
Providing features like these let you continue to build a relationship with your patient from exam room eval through telehealth while offering them all the tools that help them be more effective in their recovery. That’s not just good for your patients. That’s good for your business.
Mike Gassman is the founder of In Hand Health, an app-based software solution helping PT clinics thrive on three things: creating a dynamic patient experience; strengthening the relationships between PT’s and patients; and increasing profitability. What are your thoughts on replacing PT/patient interaction with live video chat? Helpful or harmful? Share your thoughts with us on our Facebook and Twitter pages.