Published July 27, 2020
Telemedicine is an up-and-coming alternative to conventional care. It is likely that telemedicine will continue to prevail and will ultimately become a form of care, left up to the discretion of the patient. But perhaps the most difficult question for individuals to determine is “can telemedicine work in hands-on medical fields like physical therapy?”
I spoke with Dr. Zachary Haulman of Haulman Physical Therapy in Altoona, Pennsylvania, in an attempt to determine an answer. Dr. Haulman was able to transition into providing telehealth services after Pennsylvania was issued a stay-at-home order.
Telemedicine plays an essential role for providers to have the ability to remotely consult, diagnose, and treat patients. The alternate services allow patients in both rural and urban areas to have access at their convenience. Plus, what about patients who may be too sick to travel? In times similar to COVID-19, immunocompromised patients who still require physical therapy, can have access to their sessions while not having to fear contracting viruses by coming in contact with other patients in office.
Dr. Haulman took advantage of the COVID-19 healthcare reform to continue to routinely connecting with his patients. “Telehealth has given me access to patients that I wouldn’t otherwise have,” Dr. Haulman says. “People still have need for physical therapy and in times where in-person treatments aren’t ideal, telehealth gives me an opportunity to make sure people continue to progress back to function and hit their goals they set on the first day.”
Correspondingly, Pennsylvania voted in favor to join the Physical Therapy Licensure Compact. According to the Federation of State Boards of PT, “the purpose of the compact is to increase consumer access to physical therapy services by reducing regulatory barriers to interstate mobility and cross state practice.” Physical therapists across the country have demonstrated during COVID-19 just how successful their telehealth services can be, so why not make this option permanent? If telehealth becomes a country-wide approved form of care, physical therapists like Dr. Haulman have the ability to expand their patient care across state lines.
Telemedicine services enable physical therapists to deliver high-quality patient care without the in-person treatment. Their evidence-based prevention demonstrates that patients are able to restore function and improve patient mobility over time. Through the virtual communication, patients are able to participate in continued therapeutic activity to progress and achieve their initial goals.
After embracing the capabilities of telemedicine, Dr. Haulman says, “physical therapists have learned that their capability to help patients has significantly increased by slowing down and providing additional one-on-one attention.”
COVID-19 was the little push that the physical therapy board needed. It was the tipping point for the healthcare system that prepared all of us for the future of telehealth services. It means it is time for individuals to consider the possibilities and use what they’ve learned during this pandemic to prepare for the future of occupational licensing. As the pandemic subsides, it makes the most sense to permanently revolutionize our health care system by allowing physical therapists to increase their accessibility, reducing travel and geographic barriers, and catering to the needs of patients from any place and at any time.
Alexis Schumacher is the Outreach and Public Relations Coordinator for the Knee Center for the Study of Occupational Regulation at Saint Francis University. She recently received her Master’s in Human Resource Management from Saint Francis University and has a BA from The Pennsylvania State University.
Dr. Zach Haulman, PT, DPT, OCS, is an Altoona native who attended University of Pittsburgh where he played football and earned his B.S. in Exercise Science. Zach went to physical therapy school at Sage Graduate Schools in Upstate NY. He then went on to earn his Orthopedic Clinical Specialist certificate at a post- graduate residency program. With 6 years of experience in the outpatient setting, Zach went on to open his own concierge physical therapy clinic, located inside of Dormans Sports Performance. Here he utilizes DSP’s top of the line facilities to treat any orthopedic injury, offering 1-1 hour sessions, 1/2 hour sessions, post-operative packages, and a variety of alternative “body work” options.