Rehabilitation patients receiving therapy via telehealth methods (videoconference, phone and email) do as well on average, and are just as satisfied, as those getting in-person care, according to a new study1 from Focus on Therapeutic Outcomes (FOTO), a Net Health company that provides outcomes management software for rehab therapists. Furthermore, the research suggests that utilizing telehealth may provide additional benefits, including cost-savings and the ability to reach more patients.
This ground-breaking study analyzed a much larger patient sample than any prior study, and utilized rigorous scientific methods. The results go a long way to assuage concerns of rehab therapists and patients who have increasingly relied on telehealth visits during the COVID pandemic. FOTO will share the study results and discuss the implications in two upcoming webinars for outpatient rehab therapists and skilled nursing facilities.
Effectiveness, savings and satisfaction
The FOTO Telehealth Pilot Study analyzed over 40,000 episodes-of-care and determined that nearly 4,000 were conducted using telehealth. The degree of telehealth used for each episode was examined across four levels of intensity: 1) any level, 2) less than half of visits, 3) most visits, or 4) all visits. All four levels of telehealth were compared to care delivered by traditional face-to-face interactions.
The researchers found that:
- Telehealth and non-telehealth care episodes were equally effective for improving patients’ functional status.
Episodes of care involving telehealth had an average of two to three fewer visits, suggesting telehealth may promote greater efficiency of care for the same amount of functional improvement.
Patients were equally satisfied with their therapy care regardless of whether any care visits were administered using telehealth.
“The research will give rehab therapists peace of mind because they can be confident the care they provide via telehealth is, on average, just as effective as in-person care in improving functional status and achieving high patient satisfaction,” says Net Health CEO Josh Pickus. “They also can promote this information to reach new patients.”
Improved access to care
In addition to helping therapy practices adapt to the pandemic, telehealth expands their reach, enabling therapists to care for elderly and sick people who find in-person visits difficult or impossible.
“Older patients and those with chronic conditions are the largest and fastest-growing patient population being treated by FOTO clinicians,” notes Deanna Hayes, PT, DPT, MS, FOTO Director of Research. “Finding safe and effective alternatives to provide care for older adults is becoming increasingly important.”
Telehealth also helps improve rehab therapy care for people who have reduced access to healthcare, such as those living in remote areas or having limited access to transportation.
Moving forward with telehealth
Net Health suggests that practitioners interested in telehealth begin by incorporating it with traditional on-site clinic care. A telehealth startup playbook could include:
Phasing in a few telehealth visits for appropriate patient conditions
Offering telehealth “booster” visits between in-person visits for patients needing more care
Integrating telehealth with the EHR system to facilitate recordkeeping, efficient billing, HIPAA compliance and reimbursement