October 12, 2018
Today’s physical therapy was successful by all measures: Your PT spent time listening to your symptoms, collected a thorough medical history, diagnosed your issue (tennis elbow), and sent you on your way with a bunch of exercises to do at home. During the appointment, you watched intently as the physical therapist demonstrated each home exercise and you understood the directions clearly at the time. There’s just one problem: Now that you’ve returned home, you can’t seem to replicate the exact elbow positioning that elicits the desired stretch. And the exercise handout isn’t helping.
To make matters worse, you’re headed out of town for the weekend and the PT clinic can’t accommodate you for an in-person appointment until next week. During that time, you have two options: Continue doing the exercise how you think it should be done and risk doing it incorrectly—and possibly doing harm—or not doing the exercise at all until you’re able to see your therapist.
Wouldn’t it be helpful if there was a way to show your PT what you’re doing—without leaving your house—so he could pinpoint the source of your problem and help you to adjust your movements for maximum benefit? That’s precisely the type of experience that telerehabilitation could bring to physical therapy. Being able to get timely and accurate feedback from a rehab professional can improve your chances of a quick and safe recovery.
Now you’re probably asking, “Why didn’t my PT tell me about this?” Well, telerehab is not (yet) a mainstream offering for physical therapy, but all signs indicate that more clinics will get on board in the coming years once they’ve tackled the regulatory and reimbursement issues. At some clinics, patients with certain diagnoses are given the option to schedule a “virtual visit” with their physical therapists. There also are a growing number of services that provide patients with a series of injury-appropriate videos—with clear demonstrations of the exercises that should be completed at home. This is just a sampling of the many ways that telemedicine will help to ensure that patients perform their home exercise programs correctly.
You’re probably familiar with the age-old notion that practice makes perfect, the very idea that proficiency of a particular activity or skill comes with regular practice. But in the case of rehabbing from an injury or illness, Vince Lombardi said it best: “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” And the hope is that telerehab is just what the therapists need to ensure that their patients adhere to their prescribed home programs and complete their exercises safely and accurately.