The Growth Channel

Virtual PT is a necessity today. Could it be a major growth driver tomorrow?

by Jai Seth

When the country's Covid-19 epidemic forced many clinician offices to close, physical therapy (PT) and rehab providers had to rethink how they provide care.

3 ways to ramp up telehealth to deal with Covid-19

Fortunately, payer decisions to cover telehealth services have created new opportunities to continue providing care to current patients, using virtual platforms. But organizations actively investing in virtual PT could see lasting benefits beyond keeping their existing patients. 

Virtual PT filling the gap during clinic and elective surgery closures

Orthopedics programs are deploying virtual physical therapy across the full range of patient care. Virtual PT continues necessary care for patients who received surgery before states mandated in-person sites shut down. For patients awaiting surgery, therapists use virtual PT sessions to monitor their range of motion, pain levels, interruptions to daily living activities, and outlook.

Virtual PT and rehab also help maintain finances during the pandemic. Though virtual visits are reimbursed at lower rates than in-person visits, emergency measures by CMS and private payers have created revenue opportunities via virtual channels where previously they did not exist. A precipitous drop in rehab volumes could force some centers to furlough therapists, but centers using telemedicine to treat their rehab patients are able to maintain enough volumes to reduce the need for payroll deductions.  

3 ways organizations can use virtual PT as a growth strategy

The use case for virtual PT is not limited to existing patients. Programs are offering virtual patient intake for new patients experiencing orthopedic ailments during the epidemic, and can continue using virtual PT to drive program growth post-Covid-19.

While in-person visits are superior to virtual channels when diagnosing a patient, physicians are rapidly gaining comfort in navigating the technology, and some are successfully diagnosing injuries such as ACL tears via telehealth. Below, I outline three ways organizations that include telemedicine in their long-term strategic plan can use virtual PT as a growth tool.

1. Organizations can expand their geographic reach and improve patient access in communities where they previously had a limited presence.

According to the Advisory Board orthopedics consumer survey, patients are willing to travel considerable distances to receive surgery, but are less willing to travel for pre- and post-surgery appointments. Providers can use virtual PT to capture patients early in disease progression and drive downstream surgical revenue.

2. Health systems already performing orthopedics surgeries on patients from a wider region can use virtual channels to engage patients prior to their procedure to increase patient satisfaction.

Although there has been limited research into the specific impact of pre- and post-surgical care on patient satisfaction, patients do describe regular contact with a consistent team of providers as important in their recovery and care experience. For these providers, engaging patients early and maintaining patient satisfaction might limit patient leakage to local competitors.

3. Providers can use virtual PT to retain downstream, post-surgical revenue that might otherwise leak to a patient's local provider.

While physical manipulation is clinically necessary for a number of patients, virtual PT is an effective, easily accessible, and cost effective option for many, if not most, orthopedics patients.

A major factor that will determine the future of virtual PT is continued reimbursement. We are still waiting for CMS and private payers to share their long-term plans for telemedicine coverage, though recent comments by CMS are encouraging.  Virtual PT can be more than a stopgap during the pandemic. With this experience, it could become a growth tool for PT and orthopedic programs.

How Covid-19 is transforming telehealth—now and in the future

Covid-19 has transformed telehealth from a “nice-to-have” program into an essential element of care delivery. Parallel demands to limit patient travel, prevent potential exposure, and preserve clinical capacity all have telehealth as a solution.

Download our deck to get the latest updates on the current state of the telehealth market and how Covid-19 will impact the future of telehealth.

Get the Slides