Getting Physical on Zoom
Updated: Mar 3, 2021
By Charles Polit
In my 16 years as a physical therapist in Manhattan, I never even considered doing remote physical therapy sessions. It didn’t occur to me that the type of work I do (I treat all musculoskeletal conditions, with a specialty in hand and upper extremity injuries) was suited to being practiced at a distance. But by mid-March last year, my business partner and I made a decision because of growing safety concerns about the pandemic to temporarily close our office.
By the end of March, it was clear to us that the pandemic could last longer than anticipated. This coincided with a buzz in the medical community about telehealth. So we made a decision to give Zoom and other platforms a try.
I was skeptical at first. I didn’t think there would be much demand, given the obvious physical limitations of not being in the same room. But to my surprise, my patients and I felt pretty comfortable with it from the start. People seem to really enjoy the sessions and felt they were quite useful in helping them address what they were originally coming in for.
There really is no substitute for in-person treatment of physical conditions. It is frustrating at times not to be able to manually assess how physically weak or tight a patient is. But given the obstacles that the pandemic has thrown in front of all of us, remote sessions can be surprisingly beneficial. Experienced practitioners can listen to a patient’s history, visually evaluate his or her condition and develop exercise or treatment regimens, guiding the patient through them virtually. It’s the best we can do under these trying circumstances. Patients have been happy to learn that Medicare, as well as most commercial insurance policies, cover all telehealth visits. I’m currently treating about 20% of my patients remotely.
I was a little worried about my own health those first few months of treating patients in person again, since a lot was and still is unknown about Covid-19. But fortunately, those fears were unfounded. We’ve followed all the governmental guidelines, and patients have adhered to them as well. A patient’s temperature is taken at the door, and masks are worn by everyone, with windows open and a new air-filtration system installed. Interactions between patients have been minimized or eliminated altogether, with 15-minute separations scheduled between appointments.
In New York State, physical therapists were right after front-line health workers in being eligible to get vaccines. I received my second Moderna shot on February 4. I felt very lucky to get it so easily and so soon.
I think telehealth is here to stay, even after the pandemic is over, for patients who, for whatever reason, cannot or do not want to come into an office setting. Physical therapists and patients alike have definitely come to appreciate the benefits of remote treatment. A far cry from what any of us in my profession expected to be doing in 2021!
Charles Polit is the co-founder of Artus Physical Therapy in Manhattan. He is working both remotely and in-person during the pandemic.
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