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The Changing Role of Physical Therapy in Home Care

Monday, June 17, 2019   (0 Comments)

By Lee Horner, Synzi

According to the APTA (American Physical Therapy Association), applications of virtual care and telehealth in physical therapy already have roots that expand throughout patient/client care and consultation, allowing physical therapists (PT) to better communicate with patients/clients and provide more flexible care. Virtual sessions will not replace traditional clinical care; instead, technology will help home health agencies better leverage available staffing resources and enable their PTs and physical therapist assistants to provide services in a greater capacity.

With a virtual care communication platform, therapists will be able to help injured or ill people improve their movement and manage their pain more efficiently via HIPAA-compliant video and messaging. By converting “drive time” to “patient time”, PTs and PTAs will be able to see and treat more patients on a daily basis versus spending the majority of their time en route to and from a patient’s home. The virtual care model also helps home health agencies if a therapist is unavailable due to an unexpected change in his/her schedule. In the past, the gap in available care would mean an agency may have to reschedule the specialist’s caseload or immediately try to find another therapist who can quickly drive to the patient’s home for the appointment. With virtual care, an agency administrator has more flexibility in using available therapists for short-term coverage via video and the patients will not need to wait days or weeks for the appointment to be rescheduled. Plus, agencies can intersperse telerehab sessions with in-person appointments to ensure that patients do not become too dependent upon the therapists when patients need to “be up and moving” on a more consistent basis.

Therapy visits – whether physical, occupational, and/or speech–language pathology – are typically seen as a revenue driver for agencies due to the number of visits prescribed.  Therapy visits increased from being the source of 10 percent of all home health visits to 39 percent from 1997 to 2018, according to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission. However, agencies which are heavy- or over-prescribers of therapy will be disinclined to focus on maximizing the number of visits in 2020 as the payment model changes. Agencies will be more inclined to prioritizing better outcomes while containing costs for therapy visits under the Patient-Driven Groupings Model.

A virtual care communication platform can help these agencies become more cost-effective with the advent of the new payment model. The technology help agencies supplement in-person therapy with virtual visits and ongoing messaging that can address the long gaps between. As a result, patients are more engaged in their treatment and their own role in self-care and therapists are more satisfied with their ability to better manage their patients, treat more patients, and even provide treatment during evenings or weekends.

Providing more flexibility will be more important as the demand for physical therapy increases with the aging of the baby boomers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of physical therapists is projected to grow 28 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. The increased demand for PT services is due to aging Baby Boomers who are more susceptible to health conditions, such as strokes, that may require physical therapy as well as patients suffering from chronic conditions, such as diabetes or obesity, who may have mobility issues. Virtual care technology enables agencies to support therapy patients with high-quality individualized care while improving agency profitability.

Lee Horner is CEO of Synzi, an HCAF Associate member. Contact the author via email at lhorner@synzi.com.


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