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Nuket Curran: Telemedicine a Powerful Tool in Coronavirus Pandemic

A 2015 telemedicine consult at UPMC Magee-Women Hospital in Oakland.

Coronavirus has changed our lives completely.

Each day we are making the choice to not to see anyone in person and rely on digital technology to connect with one another. In the past, connecting virtually was something we often did to avoid a call or face-to-face conversation. Now it’s our only choice.

As a physical therapist, I am now familiar with this process.

I am aware of friends and family having their appointments canceled or indefinitely delayed due to the coronavirus. Without access to health care, our patients will struggle.

What is happening to health care to address this change? Telehealth or telemedicine.

Don’t worry, I too was skeptical because I rely on my ability to assess a patient using hands-on techniques to evaluate and help determine management of my patients. With the onset of covid-19, social separation and ensuring the safety of medically compromised and high-risk patients, outpatient visits simply are not for everyone.

I must adapt as a physical therapist and offer telehealth as another treatment option for my patients.

How is this even possible? The power of objective assessment.

All health care practitioners use training in testing and measuring to compile the patient plan of care and treatment management strategy. In the absence of an in-person assessment, how can a therapist, let alone any health care practitioner, help a patient using telehealth?

Telehealth brings health care to the patient, in the comfort of their own home. A bit of preparation is needed for both the patient and the therapist for the first and subsequent visits.

Some items will not be available in the case of therapy services: equipment, modalities and hands-on treatments. The key principal to remember for any telehealth visit is communicating not only by words but by demonstration. Remember, a telehealth visit relies on information sharing and observation by the therapist.

The therapist then uses the information a patient shares with them to guide them through the most appropriate self-management, information and therapeutic activities needed to support the patient, answer questions and make sure progress is being made during this trying time.

But truly, this open access to care is a new and incredible portal. Patients in one area of a state now potentially have access to all health care providers via telehealth within their state. Please check your insurance.

For me, as a physical therapist, providing patients with access and then the information and techniques that they ultimately need to succeed with their treatment is a big deal. Will this change the course of medical treatment? It has the potential to and will likely be here moving forward.

Will this replace hands-on, in-person patient management? Definitely not.

But it certainly offers a beneficial way to help patients by providing access to care when they would have no other way of getting it.

Coronavirus has forced us to modify our health care delivery and if nothing else, offers us a ray of hope as it broadens access to health care by pushing forward telehealth.