The health care industry is constantly growing and changing, and physical therapy is no exception. Employment opportunities for physical therapists are projected to grow 21% from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for other occupations in the health care field. More and more patients are turning to physical therapy for their rehabilitation and wellness needs. Many patients are finding physical therapy to be more affordable and more accessible than other forms of health care that produce similar results.
The rise of telehealth physical therapy is one of the main factors contributing to recent growth. The COVID-19 pandemic forced many health care providers to move to virtual forms of care. Many patients found that these new telehealth services were very convenient; they also found them to be cost effective, while still allowing for a high quality of care.
Recent legislation has also helped the push toward telehealth physical therapy. The Expanded Telehealth Access Act was brought before the U.S. House of Representative in March 2021. This bill would allow health care providers to offer telehealth services under Medicare. The bill applies to physical therapists, occupational therapists and others designated by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). According to the CMS, telehealth for physical therapy includes “two-way, real-time interactive communications, e-visits, virtual check-ins, remote evaluation of visual recordings, and telephone assessment and management services.”
Currently, this is only allowed in emergency situations such as a pandemic. But this law would allow patients permanent access to telehealth services under Medicare. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) has said that it fully supports this bill. “The [pandemic] exemplified the need for patient choices when it comes to care,” says the APTA. “Now is the time to enact telehealth reforms.”
Are telehealth physical therapy services covered under private health insurance?
Most private insurance plans cover telehealth physical therapy at the same rate as in-clinic therapy. However, some insurance providers may require you to schedule an in-person visit first. Some states already have parity laws in place for physical therapy. These laws require telehealth therapy for long-term conditions to be covered at the same rate as other forms of physical therapy.
In states without parity laws, health plans can pay for telehealth services at only a percentage of what they pay for in-person services. This means that providers are not reimbursed as much for telehealth services, which leads to fewer providers choosing to offer telehealth services.
Why should insurance providers include telehealth physical therapy in their policies?
There are some forms of physical therapy that require a therapist to interact face-to-face with a patient. However, there is a growing need for services that a patient can access from the comfort of their own home. Both patients and insurance providers can benefit from these services.
Here are the top four reasons experts say insurance providers should cover telehealth physical therapy:
- It increases accessibility — Lack of accessibility is one of the largest reasons that many patients do not seek out physical therapy. Many patients go without physical therapy even if they need it. There are many reasons why a patient may be unable to access a physical therapy clinic, including:
- Living in a remote area with no clinics nearby.
- Lack of access to transportation.
- Irregular or multiple work schedules.
- Lack of access to child care.
- Disability or other mobility issues.
- Immunocompromisation or other health concerns.
- Social anxiety or other mental disorders.
- It reduces inequity in health care — Among 11 other highly industrialized countries, the United States ranks the lowest on the quality, efficiency and equity of our health care system. This is despite spending more money than any other country on health care.
Many experts agree that telehealth is one of the best ways that this problem can be solved. Telehealth physical therapy can improve access to care in populations that are underserved. This includes rural areas, where 20% of Americans live but only an estimated 9% of physicians and specialists work.
- It lowers health care costs — Many patients turn to physical therapy as a lower-cost alternative to costly surgeries and pain medications. Telehealth physical therapy services save insurance providers and patients from high medical costs. It also helps physical therapy providers to keep down the costs of in-person visits. This includes the costs of equipment, sterilization, and hours of office labor.
Patients save money by avoiding multiple doctor’s office visits to get a referral. Many insurance providers allow physical therapy services to be accessed by the patient directly, and telehealth physical therapy should be covered by direct access as well.
- It improves patient engagement — Patients who feel that they are more involved in their own care tend to have better outcomes. This helps prevent the need for further treatment, which saves money for both the patient and the insurance provider. Patients are more inclined to follow their provider’s instructions if they feel engaged in the process.
Patient engagement happens as a result of patients feeling like their health and wellness are in their own hands. Telehealth physical therapy helps achieve this goal by giving patients more control over their care. They have more control over their schedule, and care happens on their terms. Entrusting them with the use of remote monitoring devices also increases engagement.
Where can I learn more about telehealth physical therapy?
The experts at Agile Virtual Physical Therapy are ready to help you learn more about the benefits of telehealth physical therapy.
Part of our vision at Agile Virtual Physical Therapy is to provide holistic care in a way that is cost effective, safe and convenient for our patients. This includes partnering with employers and other companies with similar values. We boast a network of over 400 exceptional physical therapy providers.
We can assist employers with managing the high costs of health care. Employees can connect to a licensed clinician through our cutting-edge mobile app and subscription service. Agile also offers white-label service for other companies looking to add virtual physical therapy to their services.
Contact our team today for more information or to schedule an initial appointment.