COVID-19 Guidelines & Precautions for Physical Therapy
Just over a year ago the COVID-19 pandemic began and subsequently has had a large impact on our communities and overall healthcare system. Outpatient physical therapy practices have had to alter business operations, financial expenses and treatment sessions in order to adhere to new COVID-19 guidelines.
With these guidelines potentially here to stay, it is important for providers to stay informed and up-to-date with information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, in order to keep their facilities operating safely and efficiently.
Below we share some insight on precautionary measures that outpatient physical therapy practices have taken in order to keep their patients safe and continuing to come to their treatment sessions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Physical Therapy COVID-19 Guidelines
Outpatient physical therapy facilities were heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In order to keep their businesses open and safe for their patients, providers had to respond to the adversities in front of them. The CDC provides an extensive list of guidelines for many different types of healthcare settings on their website. Here are just a few of the new precautions that outpatient physical therapy facilities have had to take in order to ensure the safety of their patients:
- Screening questions for patients prior to treatment session
- Taking peoples temperature’s upon entering facility
- Increased expenses on PPE and sanitation equipment
- Hand sanitizing stations throughout the facility
- Decreased amount of patients seen in certain period of time to allow for cleaning and screening questions
- Mask mandate for patients and providers
The primary objective of these measures is to provide a safe environment for patients and providers. Adherence to the guidelines can lead to a sense of safety and comfort for patients and hopefully result in them continuing to come to their treatment sessions. This in turn would increase a practice's ability to maintain financial stability.
These COVID-19 precautions will likely need to be continued into the near future. The CDC is continuously releasing new information, and updated guidelines for healthcare providers and the community. Staying informed will be crucial for the health of patients and providers as well as the financial health of healthcare facilities. For further information and updates providers should reference the CDC website.
How to Safely Attend Physical Therapy during COVID-19
Consistent physical therapy, combined with exercise, can help to promote faster recovery along with several other benefits, including a decreased need for pain medications. Missing and postponing physical therapy treatment sessions can impact a patient's overall wellbeing and the progress being made in their PT journey. Due to COVID-19 and patient concerns regarding safely attending PT sessions, many patients are forgoing the consistent care they require.
It is up to practitioners to provide a safe and comfortable environment that encourages patients to attend their treatment sessions. Communicating updates to guidelines can make patients feel more comfortable in attending treatment sessions.
Additional COVID-19 guidelines that physical therapists have implemented to encourage session attendance:
- Decrease the number of patients seen per hour to allow for social distancing and decreasing the amount of potential exposure.
- Requiring all of the staff and patients to wear masks throughout their entire workday and treatment sessions.
- Having multiple hand sanitizer dispensers around the facility and signs that encourage them to be used frequently throughout their session.
- Signs with CDC guidelines for maintaining a safe environment and what patients can do to help.
- Introducing the use of telehealth as an alternative to in-person visits to decrease the number of people coming into the facility.
With the future of the pandemic unclear, it is safe to say that COVID-19 precautions for physical therapists will be here to stay for the long haul. Providers will have to prioritize maintaining a safe environment while also reiterating to patients the importances of continuing physical therapy for their own well-being. Adhering to CDC guidelines and introducing telehealth to your practice are key ways in ensuring safety to the health of your patients and the financial health of your practice.
Telehealth for Physical Therapists
Telehealth has quickly emerged as a viable alternative to in-person care for physical therapy. The real-time and live support of a physical therapist enables patients to actively receive the care they require for recovery. Telehealth serves as an additional resource that providers and patients can maximize in terms of continued treatment sessions during times of social distancing.
With virtual care, physical therapists can offer a multitude of different services; ranging from individual sessions to small group sessions. Telehealth allows providers and patients the ability to continue to engage with their exercises and each other in between sessions. Patients can continue to progress with their rehabilitation with decreased risk of exposure from others.
Physical therapists have been faced with many challenges that have come from the pandemic. Telehealth has become one of the measures taken by providers to help reduce and resolve these challenges.There are many benefits of telehealth ranging from:
Increase in number of physical therapy patients seen
- With virtual physical therapy sessions, patients no longer have to be challenged with long commuting times or traffic. Providers can now have back-to-back patient visits without having to leave a certain amount of time for cleaning and donning/doffing PPE. Many patients may have chosen to stop their physical therapy treatments due to feeling uncomfortable with in-person visits. By offering telehealth, providers may see an increase in the amount of people scheduling appointments due to the at home alternative.
Decrease the number of patient cancellations and no-shows
- With more people working from home, and telehealth decreasing transit time, people may have more time and less cancellations and no-shows. Providers may also stay in touch with their patients in-between sessions with telehealth and can send reminders to decrease the likelihood of no-shows and increase patient accountability.
Improve financial status of facility
- In the beginning of the pandemic many outpatient facilities had to deal with lay-offs and closures. Decreases in staffing, hours and number of patients being seen undoubtedly had a negative impact on the financial statuses of outpatient practices. Telehealth is a resource for additional income during times when in-person visits are limited. Providers do not have to spend extra on PPE or cleaning during these visits and can continue to bill for them as if they were in-person.
Maintaining safe and effective method of physical therapy
- As mentioned previously, physical therapists can use telehealth for multiple different types of treatment sessions (initial evaluations, re-evaluations, small group sessions and individual sessions). By having the treatment sessions done remotely, providers are decreasing the risk of exposure for not only their patients but also their fellow staff members and themselves. Physical therapists are also able to educate and observe patients performing their exercises at home. By educating about and correcting a patient's exercise techniques, PT’s can help increase safety awareness for patients performing at-home exercises. Physical therapists have the ability to record sessions and home exercise programs. By being able to do this they can send a copy of the session or program to their patients to improve accuracy and safety when performing their home exercise programs.
Allow for continued patient progress
- A recent study showed that utilizing telehealth improved patient adherence to a home exercise program and overall patient satisfaction as compared with receiving a paper copy of the home exercise program. With telehealth patients will not feel the need to stop their treatment sessions due to the discomfort with in-person visits. Patients can continue to progress from the comforts of their own home while still getting guidance from a physical therapist.
Implementing safety measures and staying up-to-date with CDC guidelines will help outpatient physical therapy practices continue to operate safely and efficiently.
Healthie For Physical Therapists
Healthie offers a cloud-based EHR and telehealth platform that is quick to implement while supporting compliance with HIPAA regulations — while being customizable to meet your business needs. In addition, the Healthie platform integrates with insurance billing tools, so that you can quickly create Superbills and CMS 1500 claims, send invoices, and collect payments for out-of-pocket services.
Here’s what you gain when working with your physical therapy or occupational therapy clients via Healthie:
- Favorite CPT Codes: PTs can designate physical therapy-specific CPT codes as “favorites” within Healthie, allowing for quick access when filling out CMS-1500s
- Anatomical Charting: With our new Anatomical Charting feature, PTs can chart more accurately, therefore saving them time when creating and submitting CMS-1500s
- HIPAA and PCI-Compliant: prioritize the security and privacy of your clients while working together remotely.
- Remote Patient Monitoring: for clients that sync their wearables like Fitbit + iHealth.
- Journal Entries: for you to assess their progress between sessions.
We have seen physical therapists and occupational therapists find success using Healthie within their practices. Whether you’re a solo practitioner or part of a multi-provider group or organization, our flexible membership plans adapt to meet your business needs. Let us help you launch your practice.
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