Telehealth has been a hot topic lately with much of the healthcare world, and naturally, our focus is the therapy side of things. There is a debate on whether we should push for therapists to continue to deliver telehealth services beyond the end of the public health emergency (PHE) or if we should focus on returning to in-person interaction as the sole means of treatment. Within this debate comes the discussion on how telehealth is utilized and whether it is for the provider’s convenience for reasons other than originally intended with the pandemic. Despite the best intentions from many, telehealth is inevitably being used in ways that’s not most impactful for the beneficiary. Focusing on the patient experience and overall satisfaction with telehealth delivery needs to be the priority since telehealth has dramatically increased access to care and resources for our patients.
I recently heard telehealth referred to as the “microwave dinner of medicine” and at first, my reaction was to immediately scoff at this notion. After taking a step back to consider the realities of some of the downfalls of telehealth, I can see how this mindset prevails. Like anything else, telehealth can be very beneficial for patients and clinicians alike – when used responsibly. The problem with telehealth, just like any other challenge, is combatting irresponsible use. If we want telehealth to be a lasting change and be able to say that it’s a beneficial addition to services that therapists can provide, we need to evaluate how we are using telehealth and review the quality of services being delivered. The overall thought that resonated with me was that we can do better – and we should for the sake of the patients we serve.
When telehealth was first approved for therapists in the spring of 2020, we were at the height of the pandemic, experiencing massive disruption to care with limited access to rooms, units, and even entire buildings at times. The introduction of telehealth was intended to allow care to be initiated and supervised in the event that the supervising therapist couldn’t physically interact with the patient in person and to improve overall access to care. As the PHE has continued, we continue to utilize telehealth to improve the availability of service provision. In areas where staffing may have been a challenge, we can now initiate evaluations and provide supervisory visits to continue with plans of care for patients that may have gone otherwise untreated or waited for therapist availability.
Overall, there are great benefits of telehealth for both patients and clinicians. Still, to ensure a positive view of telehealth as an acceptable means of service delivery, we must put some focus on the quality of the services provided. Here are some tips on how to improve the overall telehealth experience for our patients:
About the author:
Valerie Waugh, OTD, OTRL, RAC-CT
Regional Vice President
Valerie started with Encore in 2013 as a new graduate and is now a Regional Vice President in Michigan. Passion for the geriatric population, interest in overall leadership development of the field, and interest in writing as part of her educational pursuits led her to want to bring attention to important topics affecting the industry and highlight what we can do to continually be part of the changing landscape of healthcare.