Why High Risk Physical Therapy Patients are Forgoing Care in 2021
Learn why high risk patients have been forgoing online or virtual physical therapy appointments. Find out how telehealth services can help.
With the Covid-19 pandemic continuing into 2021, many physical therapy practices are still not seeing full patient caseloads. Even with the production of the vaccine and some Covid-19 restrictions being lifted, high risk patients are continuing to forgo physical therapy services. The decrease in people attending treatment sessions can put a financial strain on physical therapy practices. As the world starts to re-open it is important that physical therapists become aware of why their patients may not be comfortable returning or starting physical therapy and how they change their mind.
In this blog we will discuss reasons why people are forgoing physical therapy and ways to get them coming back through your doors.
Why Physical Therapy Patients are Foregoing Care
According to a report from the APTA, physical therapists who worked in a “private outpatient or group practice” saw a decrease in their patient caseload from 97% to 76% between April/May and July of 2020. This unfortunately negatively impacted the financial stability of many PT practices. In order for practices to stay open and keep their patients safe, alterations to their everyday operations including; temperature checks, mask mandates, social distancing guidelines, and increases in sanitation and cleaning equipment were implemented.
Arguably, patient caseloads have been on the rise since then, due to changes in the pandemic and the production of the vaccine. However, many practices have not yet returned to treating at full capacity.
Here is a list of potential reasons why your high risk patients may have not returned to physical therapy yet:
- Apprehensive of returning to areas with large groups of people
- Unsure of the benefits of physical therapy in their recovery and health
- Fearful of contracting Covid-19 during PT session
- May think they need the vaccine before returning to PT sessions
- Have lost the contact information for their physical therapist or clinic, and are unsure of how to book an appointment
Now more than ever physical therapy can make a huge impact on the health of our society. Helping people rehabilitate back to living active lifestyles will not only positively impact high risk patients individually but also have a huge impact on the overall health of our society.
Reminding patients of the impact physical therapy can have will play a huge role in getting them to return to participating in physical therapy services.
The Important Role Physical Therapy Has In Today’s Society
We know that participating in physical therapy can have multiple benefits for a person’s physical, mental and emotional health. Getting people active and engaged in physical therapy can not only help their current condition but can also help prevent other illness and decrease illness severity.
A recent study focusing on patients who were diagnosed with Covid-19 between January to October 2020 by at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, found that:
- Patients who were “consistently inactive” prior to being diagnosed with Covid-19 were a little over 2x more likely to be hospitalized than those “who were consistently meeting physical activity guidelines”.
- Patients that were “consistently inactive” were approximately 2x more likely to be admitted to the ICU than those “who were consistently meeting physical activity guidelines.”
- Patients that were “consistently inactive” prior to being diagnosed with Covid-19 were approximately 2.5x more likely to die compared to those “who were consistently meeting physical activity guidelines.”
- The study concludes that the “odds of death for consistently inactive patients was robust, and in most instances was higher than the odds of other Covid-19 risk factors.”
Alarmingly, the study concluded that the risks of death that are associated with consistent patient inactivity, in most cases, outweighed the risks associated with Covid. So while patients may be skipping out on physical therapy sessions to reduce their risk of illness, the long-term effects of deconditioning are concerning.
Physical therapists can have a direct impact on improving someone's physical activity level. By helping someone through their rehabilitation process, a physical therapist is increasing their chances of becoming more physically active. Increases in physical activity can help prevent other prevalent comorbidities such as diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease. Educating people on these scary statistics and stressing the importance of physical activity and how physical therapy can help may encourage people to return to participating in physical therapy.
What PTs Can Do to Get Patients Coming Back to Therapy
In order for physical therapy clinics to return to full capacity caseloads, they must connect with their patients and educate them on the importance of physical therapy. There are multiple directions physical therapists can take in reconnecting with patients. We have provided a list of ways that we think will excel the process of getting your patients coming back through your doors.
- Connect with Past Patients via Email, Mail or Social Media
Utilizing your clinic's marketing tools to promote the importance of physical therapy is a great way to connect with past and present patients. Reaching out via email, snail mail and/or social media, to check in on patients who chose to stop coming to the pandemic is a great way to show them that you care and remind them of the services that you provide. Letting them know of any changes that have occurred at your practice and updating them on the importance of physical therapy may be the exact motivation they need to return to physical therapy. Physical therapists may ease the return process for the patient by sending them links on how to schedule appointments and contact information.
- Promote and offer telehealth and virtual physical therapy
Telehealth and virtual physical therapy rehabilitation became very popular during the Covid-19 pandemic and continues to be an added service for many clinics. Patients that were coming to in-person visits prior to the pandemic may not realize that their clinic now offers virtual services. For many high risk patients that continue to not feel comfortable leaving their home, virtual physical therapy may be the alternative they need to get back on track. Promoting telehealth through social media, telephone, email and snail mail is a great way to get people considering utilizing this service. To learn more about how telehealth can benefit your patients and your business, check out our blog!
- Follow COVID-19 Guidelines and Precautions
COVID-19 guidelines and precautions have been around for months now and are not new to most physical therapy clinics. Physical therapists have taken many precautions to ensure that they provide their patients and staff with the safest environment to rehabilitate and work in. That being said, these alterations must be made known to past and current patients. Putting up signs promoting use of sanitation stations, mask mandates and social distancing will remind patients to abide by guidelines while also showing them that you are following them as well. High risk patients will want to know that you take their health seriously and may inquire about what precautions have been taken prior to returning to the clinic. Sending previous and current patients newsletters to update them on the precautions that have been taken, is a great way to make people feel more comfortable in their return to physical therapy. Patient safety should always be top priority, and letting high risk patients know that and showing them that you care can go a long way and lead to an increase in people returning to therapy.
- Educate High Risk Patients on Importance of Physical Activity
Educating patients on the importance of physical activity falls within the scope of practice as a physical therapist. As mentioned previously, the physical activity level of a person has a major impact on their health as well impacting the severity of Covid-19 if they were to develop it. People who are injured or have a chronic condition that requires physical therapy, but are not attending, are at risk for not being physically active. It is important that physical therapists educate people on how beneficial physical therapy is and inform them of how it can help prevent the development of comorbidities that can increase Covid-19 severity. Sending out newsletters, holding virtual information sessions and partnering with other wellness businesses to spread awareness is a great way to help people reconsider coming back to physical therapy. Patients may simply be unaware of the positive impact returning to physical therapy can have, and it is essential that physical therapists reach out and educate them.
- Stay Informed About the Covid-19 Vaccine
People may think that they have to be vaccinated before returning to physical therapy, or may just be more comfortable returning after being vaccinated. It is important that physical therapists stay informed on matters relating to the Covid-19 vaccine in case patients ask them about it. Physical therapists should let people know that being vaccinated is not a prerequisite for physical therapy. They should also remind them of the precautions that they are taking in abiding by Covid-19 guidelines.
For people who are looking to get vaccinated before coming to physical therapy, it may benefit therapists to stay informed on local establishments that are distributing the vaccine. The CDC website offers a vaccine finder to help people in different states locate vaccine distribution. Having information like this on your website, social media outlets, or even emailing people can help with the process of getting vaccinated if they so choose. Having the ability to get vaccinated may make high risk patients more comfortable leaving their home and returning to previous activities (ie. physical therapy). By educating people on how to get vaccinated and provide them with additional resources, physical therapists can increase the chances of people coming to physical therapy as well.
People may currently be foregoing physical therapy, but physical therapists can help put an end to that. Educating people on the benefits of physical therapy, prioritizing their safety using virtual physical therapy services, and advocating for them during these times can help remind people of how important their health is and encourage them to return.
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:
- Insurance Billing
- Favorite ICD-10 & CPT Codes
- Payment Processing
- Anatomical Charting
- And much more
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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