Options for Care While Social Distancing
The American Physical Therapy Association understands that these are stressful and confusing times. Your physical therapist and physical therapist assistant are committed to ensuring your continued access to the support and services they have to offer while minimizing risk to both you and your therapist.
Despite the need to practice social distancing, you have options. You can continue your rehabilitation and recovery while maintaining a safe distance and complying with stay-at-home orders. APTA has compiled a brief overview of these options so you can make an informed decision that best suits your needs. Here are answers to frequently asked questions.
I want to visit my physical therapist, but how can I protect myself from the coronavirus?
The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to the virus. This includes following CDC guidelines, your state’s stay-at-home order, if applicable, and practicing “social distancing.” If you are going into the clinic, your physical therapist may provide a mask, if available, and perform screening procedures, such as taking your temperature upon entry to treatment and asking about recent travel.
If you require care and cannot be seen face-to-face, your physical therapist may offer services furnished via telehealth as an option.
What is telehealth or telerehabilitation?
- Telehealth is the delivery of treatments or services remotely using electronic information and telecommunication technologies such as audio and video. You also may hear the term “telerehabilitation,” which refers specifically to physical therapist, occupational therapist, and speech therapist services delivered remotely.
- Telehealth services may be delivered in real time (that is, a live session) using audio-video technologies, or not in real time, using messaging and recorded video or images.
- Real-time telehealth allows you to engage in an actual therapy session with your PT or PTA in your own home through a “face-to-face” audio-video connection.
What equipment do I need for a telehealth visit?
For a face-to-face therapy session, you will need a computer or mobile device with an integrated camera and microphone. You will also need a good internet connection that allows you to stream video.
What conditions can I receive treatment for via telehealth?
Telehealth is currently being used by physical therapists to manage a variety of conditions, including chronic pain; Alzheimer disease; arthritis; cognitive, neurological, and vestibular disorders; multiple sclerosis; musculoskeletal conditions; Parkinson disease; pelvic floor dysfunction; and sarcopenia (weakness and loss of stamina as part of aging, which can interfere with physical activity). We encourage you to reach out to your PT for advice on what conditions they may be able to treat via telehealth.
Will my insurer cover telehealth services provided by my physical therapist?
Many insurance carriers offer some sort of coverage for telehealth services furnished by physical therapists. However, you should always call your insurance company and verify what your individual policy covers.
If your insurer does not cover interactive telehealth sessions furnished by physical therapists, consider contacting them and encouraging them to do so. The current health crisis has made it clear that telehealth is a valuable resource for physical therapists and physical therapist assistants in expanding their capability to meet the needs of patients like you when and where those needs arise.
APTA is calling on CMS to meet the medically necessary needs of Medicare beneficiaries by expanding coverage of telehealth services to physical therapy. To advocate for telehealth for Medicare beneficiaries, use this template letter. Instructions are included at the top of the letter.
My insurer only covers e-visits. What is an e-visit?
An e-visit is a non-face-to-face communication initiated by a patient to the physical therapist via an online portal. You may be familiar with using an online portal with your physician. This involves a website that requires a user ID and password for you to access and pose questions to your physician and receive lab or test results. During an e-visit, your PT could use the portal to address questions you have about your exercises, your home program, changes in your pain or balance, and other issues. This is a way for you to stay connected with your physical therapist, but does not involve an actual live, real-time, interactive treatment session with your PT.
My physical therapist recommended a virtual check-in. What is required for one of those? How does this differ from telephone services?
Both telephone services and virtual check-ins can be done using a telephone, although a virtual check-in may also include the use of audio-video applications, secure text messaging, email, or a portal. Your PT may perform a virtual check-in by contacting you. Telephone services must be initiated by you or your caregiver reaching out to the PT. In both cases, these services allow you to maintain contact with your PT, seek advice, and receive recommendations and support in your rehabilitative efforts or care of a loved one. Neither of these services involves an actual treatment session.
It is less important for you to know the differences between the services and more important that you know they are available to you. Your PT will determine which type of service occurred and document and bill appropriately. The PT will also advise you as to what type of interaction is occurring when they obtain your initial consent to having the service provided.
Can I still go see my physical therapist in person when I’m “social distancing?”
Yes — but the best thing to do is call ahead. Your PT’s office may have preventive measures in place to reduce spread of the virus, or they might have reduced hours. And, if you do have to see your PT in a face-to-face situation, they will perform a few screening procedures like taking your temperature, asking a few focused health-related questions, and providing a facemask, if available, to protect you, your PT and/or PTA, and others.
Make sure you explore all options for care with your PT to ensure your safety and that of others.
I am seeing a physical therapist through workers' compensation, but am having reservations about continuing treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic. What should I do?
Here are some considerations for you as a patient:
- Contact your case manager. There may already be guidance available during the health emergency.
- Contact your employer; specifically, your employer's human resources department or your union representative. Again, guidance may already be there for you.
- Find out if your state has initiated emergency rules that allow telehealth to be provided for purposes of treatment through workers' compensation. If the answer is yes, contact your provider to set up a telehealth visit.
- If you can't find definitive answers, keep making your concerns known and exploring possible solutions with your case manager and employer.
Where can I get up-to-date information?
For the latest information, check with the following:
We encourage you to reach out to your PT to see which of these services are possible based on your insurance plan and available technology. If you don’t yet have a PT, physical therapists who provide telehealth services may be found using APTA’s Find a PT tool. Select your state then type “telehealth” in the Practice Focus field.