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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:


Consider the beneficiary status: Some patients are simply not going to be telehealth candidates; it’s simple as that. Do not force it if the patient cannot or chooses not to participate or needs a direct hands-on session. Assessment of the complexities of the patient must be completed prior to ensure the provision of telehealth will be beneficial.

Select the right assistant: The assistant is just as much a part of the visit as the clinician is and can impact the outcome of the visit. Limitations may exist with available assistants but one consideration to truly make the best use of telehealth services is to ensure the right selection. If the right fit isn’t there, consider moving the visit or rescheduling to facilitate a better outcome.

Make the visit meaningful: There are mixed reviews on the overall patient satisfaction with telehealth services throughout the pandemic. We need to be mindful of that and do a better job of making a meaningful visit; that may take more effort at times than an in-person visit. We can use concepts available to us through cognitive psychology, like the peak-end effect. This theory functions on the premise that our memory of an experience (both positive and negative) is based upon a peak moment and how the experience ended rather than a cumulative experience. Consider what may be meaningful for the patient and help to create a positive memory of the visit itself.

Put an emphasis on human connection: It can be hard to feel connected to a device screen but focusing on the patient and making that human connection can help with the overall experience. Telehealth visits tend to be shorter in duration because we focus on the overall efficiency of the visit. Still, much of what is cut out is the routine small talk that may occur with an in-person visit that helps us to get to know each other. Throughout the visit, try to make a meaningful connection with the patient, whether it’s a joke, mutual connection, or shared experience. Go out of your way to make that connection that transcends the screen.

Use responsibly: Just like anything else, use the method of service delivery that is most beneficial to the patient. But also consider responsible use in terms of access; does telehealth allow for a service to be delivered that other means wouldn’t be able to? We may want to exist in a perfect world where the staffing crisis doesn’t exist and access to healthcare services is equal across the board, but unfortunately, that’s not our reality. Exhaust alternate options first and evaluate whether telehealth helps to benefit the patient and emphasize making that interaction meaningful.

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.

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