The healthcare landscape for Occupational Therapists (OTs) has shifted dramatically due to COVID-19 and this shift has many OTs looking to incorporate telehealth into their current practice to continue services regardless of conditions.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic having already set the stage for a massive increase in telehealth consults, the research firm sees an even bigger future – as demand for one-stop virtual visits and remote patient monitoring grows as much as seven-fold.”-Healtchare IT News
While COVID-19 has quickly changed the way we view healthcare and access to these services, regardless of this it seems that telehealth is here to stay and will continue to impact OTs and their practices in various ways.
In a recent survey two-thirds of respondents said that their willingness to try telehealth had increased due to the pandemic. One-quarter of them had not considered this as an option for services before the pandemic.
Leaders in the OT field are recommending that the best course of action for OTs is to continue learning as much as possible about telehealth and how they can start incorporating this method into their practice to ensure they stay relevant and competitive.
Many therapists may be unsure of the new systems, regulations and requirements for practicing telehealth. For those that want to learn how to incorporate the practice but may not know everything they need to know about telehealth, they can learn all the fundamentals by becoming a Board Certified Telepractice Specialist.
What is Telehealth?
Telehealth, in itself, is not a service; it is defined as a means to provide any medical service, including occupational therapy, via technology rather than in-person. Telehealth often involves video conferencing technology and can even take the form of using virtual platforms to send messages to patients.
Categories in Telehealth
There are four main categories that telehealth tends to cover. These include live video, remote patient monitoring, store-and-forward, and mobile health.
Why Telehealth Matters
Originally telehealth was developed in order to make healthcare services accessible to underserved and rural populations that had a hard time obtaining these services. However, due to fast-paced lifestyles and the consumer’s desire for convenience, telehealth is quickly becoming the new standard for many healthcare professionals.
As more and more OTs are beginning to find ways to incorporate telehealth methods into their practices, it is becoming a necessity in order to stay competitive and relevant.
Telehealth has shown us how we can continue to provide care even during unforeseen obstacles, such as a global pandemic, and how this method provides an element of safety and keeps both the clinician and the patient healthy and free from risk of being exposed to illness.
How Telehealth is Being Used
With the ability to be utilized in a multitude of ways, telehealth is versatile and can be beneficial in many different OT settings. These include when working with children and youth, health promotion and health/wellness, early intervention, home health, home modifications and aging in place, mental health, and outpatient neuro rehab. Telehealth is also a wonderful solution for management of chronic illness, medication management, and patient education.
Some common ways that telehealth is being used by OTs currently is to assist clients in developing skills, incorporating assistive technology and adaptive techniques, modifying work, home, or school environments, and creating health-promoting habits and routines.
Jana Cason, the Associate Professor at the Auerbach School of Occupational Therapy at Spalding University in Kentucky, states “One way in which occupational therapy practitioners can promote health and wellness is through the use of emerging service delivery models, including telehealth.”
Outcomes Using Telehealth
Implementing telehealth as an OT is beginning to become essential and some of the outcomes that OTs are seeing include the facilitation of occupational performance, adaptation, health and wellness, prevention, and quality of life.
Benefits of Telehealth
There are many reasons why OTs are turning towards integrating telehealth into their practices. Telehealth is an efficient way to reach those who live in rural areas or who are unable to travel. It makes care accessible for many populations that otherwise wouldn’t have the ability to receive quality treatment.
Telehealth also gives improved access to providers and specialists whom clients might not have immediate access to due to living too far away, increasing client reach and new clientele.
Another benefit of telehealth is increased privacy, which helps with social stigma and anonymity and encourages more people to seek the care they need because they can do it from the safety of their own homes.
Telehealth also removes the need for travel for both clinician and client, which can positively impact the health and well-being of both parties.
Some other benefits of implementing telehealth as an OT include:
- It is easier on the OT’s body
- It emphasizes patient education and pain science
- It delivers care on-demand to meet today’s consumers
Important Notes Before Getting Started with Telehealth
Before building the telehealth model into your OT practice it is important to make sure you are knowledgeable about state and federal laws regarding telehealth. OTs who are using telehealth in order to deliver service must comply with the Standards of Practice for Occupational Therapy (AOTA, 2010c) and the Occupational Therapy Code of Ethics and Ethics Standards (2010) (AOTA, 2010a) along with licensure and reimbursement requirements.
CMS Update Impacts OTs & Telehealth
It is also important to note that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has now approved e-visits for established Medicare patients as of July of 2020. If you are an OT who is providing services to Medicare patients please review the following update from CMS:
Clinicians who may not independently bill for evaluation and management visits (for example – physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, clinical psychologists) can also provide these e-visits and bill the following codes:
- G2061: Qualified non-physician healthcare professional online assessment and management, for an established patient, for up to seven days, cumulative time during the 7 days; 5–10 minutes
- G2062: Qualified non-physician healthcare professional online assessment and management service, for an established patient, for up to seven days, cumulative time during the 7 days; 11–20 minutes
- G2063: Qualified non-physician qualified healthcare professional assessment and management service, for an established patient, for up to seven days, cumulative time during the 7 days; 21 or more minutes.
The full update from CMS can be found here.
HIPAA Requirements & Telehealth
As an OT it is also important to know that HIPAA requirements regarding telehealth are quite similar to the HIPAA requirements that OTs are already using. These include:
- Only authorized users shall be able to access ePHI
- A secure system of communication shall be used to protect the integrity of ePHI
- There must be a system of monitoring communications with ePHI to prevent malicious or accidental breaches.
AOTA also has many useful resources that OTs should familiarize themselves with when thinking about integrating telehealth into their practice. For example, make sure you understand the laws about telehealth in your state.
Incorporating Telehealth is Necessary
While it isn’t clear what telehealth will look exactly like in the future, it is clear that telemedicine will only continue to evolve and will remain a significant model in healthcare. OTs that take the initiative to inform themselves and incorporate telehealth now will be ready regardless of what the future brings.
Telehealth Certification Can Both Increase OT Skills and Marketability
In a time when social distancing could be put into effect at a moment’s notice due to an unexpected outbreak, this type of preparation will be very important for a number of OTs and other therapists. At this point, it seems that it is not so much a matter of if, just a matter of where and when.
Telehealth (or telepractice) certification both introduces a therapist to all of the most important fundamentals of telehealth and gives an independently verifiable third-party certification to show other professionals and stakeholders alike that telehealth is an area of expertise.
The training covers these important aspects:
- Introduction to Telepractice
- Licensing and Compliance
- Special Education
- Increasing Stakeholder Buy-In
Certification informs OTs on all of these important aspects, and the program was created by clinical experts and therapists who are experts in telepractice.
New Competition Is On the Horizon
There will also be new competitors that enter into the healthcare marketplace that threaten the old model of therapy and health, such as Amazon’s new venture into healthcare that focuses on telehealth. As is the case with Amazon in many other areas, they will be looking to cut healthcare costs.
This makes it all the more important to make sure to make sure client relationships are established and strong and they are getting the services they need in the mediums that work for them.
Telehealth Will Be a Big Part of the Future: Will It Be Part of Yours?
Telehealth will be a big part of the future. It is important for OTs and therapy clinics to make sure they are prepared to be a part of that future and learn how to serve their clients, who are increasingly looking to be served online.
Even if OTs do not decide to have a practice that is strictly telehealth-based, it is important to understand how to incorporate this model into a current practice in order to best serve patients seeking care.
Learn More About Telepractice Certification