virtual telehealth imageOne of the positive outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the development of innovative ways to provide health care services to patients at home. For example, within a matter of a very short time, St. Luke’s greatly expanded its ability to connect patients with primary care physicians, medical specialists, and physical, occupational and speech therapists. Patients connect with health care providers through a computer, laptop, tablet, or phone, using an on-line meeting program, such as Microsoft Teams meeting.

Virtual therapy visits have been quite popular, especially among patients who have difficulty getting around or who just feel safer at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, says Jeremy Kushner, PT, DPT, facility director, Physical Therapy at St. Luke’s.

“We strive to provide the same standard of care through virtual therapy visits as through in-person visits,” Kushner says. “I’m seeing a lot of new patients who haven’t been able to get into the office. This includes patients who have an underlying health issue – such as cancer, heart disease or a respiratory illness.

“Although in many cases in-office visits may be preferred, some patients have thanked us for converting them to the virtual platform so they could continue to have access to our expertise and knowledge from their homes.” Many also appreciate saving the time it takes to drive to and from the office.

Conditions treated through virtual therapy visits include musculoskeletal, neurological, and vestibular conditions. Virtual therapy visits are available with physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech language pathologists.
“You don’t have to be too tech savvy,” he says. “If you can work on a computer, you can have a virtual visit. All that is needed an Internet connection and a computer, tablet or phone with a camera.” An application that provides audio, video and screen sharing, such as Microsoft Teams meeting, connects the patient and therapist.
Patients may schedule virtual visits for both initial evaluations and follow-up treatments. The first session is a thorough evaluation to determine the patient’s needs and limitations, which the therapist uses to develop a treatment plan to start the individual’s pathway to recovery.

“Subsequent visits might involve exercises,” he says. “For example, if the patient had a knee problem, I might ask him to perform a squat and would give verbal instruction to ensure proper movement. We provide feedback to get them moving the right way.” Typically, virtual visits occur once a week for 30-60 minutes, but could be more frequent depending on the patient’s needs.

“Most major insurance companies are currently covering virtual therapy; however, please call our office to determine insurance coverage.” The staff will contact the insurance company on the patient’s behalf and report back to them.

Kushner believes that due to their use during the COVID-19 period, virtual visits will become more accepted – and even desired – by both patients and insurers.

“There has been some prominent research that shows virtual appointments can be as effective as in-office ones,” he says. “I’m certain there will be some major policy changes regarding coverage of virtual visits as a result of what is occurring now.”

Meanwhile, Physical Therapy at St. Luke’s has continued to offer office visits at its more than 50 locations in the greater Lehigh Valley. To reduce the potential risk of COVID-19, staff screen every patient prior to their schedule appointment, wear masks, practice social distancing in the office and rigorously sanitize all equipment.

To schedule your appointmet, call Physical Therapy at St. Lukeʼs at 484-526-5025 or visit www.stlukespt.com. For information on the COVID-19 pandemic, visit www.sluhn.org/covid-19.

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