I hope you are doing well and getting through this as best you can. I hope you and your family are home, safe and healthy. I wanted to explain to you, the public, the health care consumer, a little bit about telehealth and virtual medical visits. I’d like to do this, yes, because it is a service we offer and I’d like everyone to understand how it works, but also because right now if possible you should try and handle as much of your medical care as possible through this means. The problem is that in the medical community we have been working with this technology for years, personally my primary care MD has been an app based medical service for almost 4 years now. To the general public however, this is a newer service that is gaining popularity right when everything else you are used to is changing, and no one likes change (if you say you do you are lying).
What is Telehealth or virtual medicine or e-vists? Are they all the same? Like a lot of things in healthcare these terms all have a different meaning, but are often used interchangeably, and for the public that can be confusing, but you should know that for our purposes you can consider them all one in the same. Your visit can take place via a phone call, a video chat application or a secure texting service. The important part for you is that you don’t need to leave your home. I am going to use the term virtual visits because that is what we call them in our practice.
What can be accomplished via Telehealth visits? The short answer here is, a lot. Your provider, whether they are a primary care provider, medical specialist, mental health expert, or physical therapist can talk with you and get a great idea from listening to you, and asking questions what your situation is, what is going on and what needs to be done. Even in person a good provider is going to get most of their information from talking to you. They can then have you do some specific movement based tests, or ask you to try different things to see how you respond to them. Personally I have had a rash diagnosed over a virtual visit, multiple sinus infections, and was told that nothing could be done for my son’s tooth when I knocked it out when he was 3 (let’s not spend more time on that one). As physical therapists we get most of our diagnostic information from watching you move anyway, so for us this is a great platform. To give you an idea this past week I treated 2 people who recently had ACL surgeries, someone recovering from a rotator cuff repair, a few individuals with lower back pain, and another couple with neck pain. I was able to help 2 runners return to running without pain, and helped someone with a frozen shoulder get on the path to recovery after she had been in pain since November.
What cannot be done via Telehealth visits? Well to start with anything that requires us to touch you is hard via virtual visits. From a physical therapy standpoint that makes a lot of the manual work hard, but believe it or not we can teach you some self treatment tricks for that. From a primary care side, blood pressures can be hard to check remotely, but some people have their own automated cuff and the provider can see that in use. Pulse can be hard, but again a friend or family member may be able to get that (or these days most smart watches are pretty good). Listening to heart and lung sounds and a good general physical exam will obviously not be good over virtual visits, but in today’s environment your provider will be able to tell from the rest of the information they gather, if that is currently crucial and worth the trip to the office, or if that can wait for the time being.
How do Telehealth visits work? This is less standard than the other answers and does depend on your provider and the system they use. I will say all the systems require very little technical knowledge on your end. They can all be done from your computer, smartphone or tablet. Most will not require you to download or install another app or program, but if they do they will walk you through the process. You don’t need headphones or a special camera or microphone, all the standard things on your devices will work perfectly. This whole system is designed to be easy and user friendly. I know all we ask our patients is if you have a dog to make sure we get to see them!
The goal here is to make you an educated consumer of your medical services (not just physical therapy), and to understand that these other options, while new and different could be the best thing for your health right now and into the future. If you have any questions about this, whether about physical therapy or other medical services I would be happy to help answer them. Go ahead and post them below in the comments.