Now that many occupational therapy clients have been forced to transition to telehealth (or teletherapy/telepractice) many clients are finding they want to keep doing telehealth in tandem with in-person services due to how it makes their lives so much easier. There are a lot of benefits for occupational therapists as well.
Many people who need a wide variety of medical and therapeutic services and have been restricted by stay at home orders or other restrictions to protect their own health or that of others. While telehealth is not going to be the best choice for every client, moving forward it is important for occupational therapists to consider how telehealth fits into their plan for the future. Many clients will want a combination of in-person services and teletherapy or might at times have telehealth be their only option.
If an OT isn’t prepared to provide it that client may have to look elsewhere to achieve their therapy goals. There’s a number of reasons for therapists to embrace telepractice as well.
Many Patients Want Telehealth- Many OTs are Not Offering it
Even with these rapid changes, less than 27% of therapist’s services are being delivered due to COVID-19, leaving many patients without the direction they need to obtain their therapy goals, potentially setting them back months in development.
Despite this low percentage, 78% of patients actually embrace virtual services. This gap in supply and demand begs the question: why aren’t more OTs offering their services virtually, especially in a time like this?
While expanding to telehealth practice can initially seem intimidating, there are many benefits that serve the OT and their patients. Increased flexibility, higher career satisfaction, wider patient reach, and enhanced personal well-being are just a few examples.
Effectiveness of Telehealth: Perception and Reality
However, some obstacles still remain with regard to public perception of teletherapy as evidenced in this study in the International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology which addressed many issues common to teletherapy beyond speech-language pathology such as “Emergent themes related to (a) practicality and convenience, (b) learning, (c) difficulties and (d) communication.”
“Treatment outcome data and parental reports verified that the telehealth service delivery was feasible and acceptable. However, it was also evident that regular discussion and communication between the various stakeholders involved in teletherapy programs may promote increased parental engagement and acceptability.”
Why Aren’t more OTs doing Telehealth?
Much of the resistance to telehealth is either with the OTs or often is because OTs do not have the confidence to express to their clients that teletherapy can be just as effective as in-person services.
It is the job of the OT to be informed on not only how to practice telehealth effectively, but also to educate the patients and stakeholders on how it can be effective in order to help their patients achieve their goals.
16 Reasons for an OT to Add Telehealth to their Practice
1. Expand your Practice with New and Existing Clients
There is a huge gap between the amount of patients open to telehealth and the number of OTs and other providers willing to consistently administer therapy via telepractice.
The convenience of telepractice can help break down barriers to entry and make it easier to schedule more appointments with the same patients who otherwise may have issues with too much travel, as well as opening up the realm of possibilities for potential clients.
Building out a telehealth practice along with your regular practice, or simply obtaining the necessary skills for telepractice through telepractice certification can help ensure that your skillset is never irrelevant no matter what social distancing measures are in place.
2. Increase Your Safety
People that become occupational therapists typically become OTs to help people. This also means they are often willing to go above and beyond to see their patients succeed and receive the therapeutic treatment they need. However, sometimes this can come at a cost to the therapist. In a time when doing too many in-person sessions can mean putting both yourself and your clients at risk for infection, it is important to be smart and realistic about what risks are worth taking. It is also not uncommon for OTs to work with populations that are at higher risk for more serious infections due to having somewhat compromised immune systems, making it all the more important to take significant precautions.
Even other things like driving through severe weather or leaving the office alone late at night can increase various risks to the therapist. Telehealth can increase the flexibility of the therapist and ability to administer services regardless of whether there are stay at home orders, severe weather, or other unforeseen circumstances.
OTs know that if their patients start to miss sessions regression can happen quickly, endangering the goals of therapy and undermining patient motivation.
3. Location Independence: Therapy Can be Done from any Professional Workplace
Incorporating telehealth into an existing practice or starting to work exclusively remotely can offer significant advantages with regard to time savings and flexibility. It is important to maintain professionalism in a number of ways; attire, setting, maintaining privacy, and avoiding interruptions. However, there are many options for converting a room or space to a place for telehealth that can meet all these requirements.
This flexibility could allow an occupational therapist to work from their home office (or a designated space) multiple times per week or if they are looking to set up a 100% telehealth practice they can potentially eliminate commuting altogether. If you live just outside of a major metropolitan area this can allow an OT to get clients from throughout the city that can be seen on an irregular basis for in-person sessions.
4. Eliminate Commuting Hassles
There’s nothing quite like a long day at work followed by a significant commute home. In fact, commuting is usually ranked as one of the most influential components when it comes to overall satisfaction with where one lives. Facing daily traffic, long commute times stuck slouched over at the wheel, and other driving hazards can take a serious toll on your mental health and happiness. Establishing a telepractice is the simplest way to eliminate all commute-related challenges so you can spend your time and energy on more important areas, such as your patients’ progress.
5. Enjoy a Flexible Schedule
Implementing technology and virtual services into your OT practice is an effective way to maximize your time and enjoy more flexibility in your day to day life. OTs who use telepractice extensively have the ability to accommodate a wider range of appointment times and can also lessen transition times associated with having someone physically present. This increased flexibility also means it is possible to offer therapy sessions at abnormal times due to not having to go into the office every time someone needs therapy. While offering sessions outside of normal working hours is not necessarily a goal for many OTs, having the option to be able to do effective telehealth sessions without using time to commute between sessions or wait at the office during gaps can be extremely beneficial.
A telehealth practice opens doors to a different type of work-life balance for OTs, especially with regard to their own families. When you have greater flexibility in your schedule this gives you the freedom to prioritize your commitments and choose how to shape your days. This sense of freedom can hugely impact your well-being and peace of mind as well as make it easier for you to be more effective with helping your own family navigate the ins and outs of everyone’s schedules.
7. Increased Efficiency Leads to Professional Advancement
OTs who are dedicated to self-educating, growing, and staying up to date with the latest developments in their field will truly distinguish themselves as the world is shifting to new norms through COVID-19 and after. In such a cutting-edge industry, it’s crucial to keep up with innovations and constantly deepen and develop professional skills. Due to the many efficiencies of teletherapy, OTs who manage their schedules effectively will be able to dedicate more time to their education and professional advancement. Along with this, telepractice allows occupational therapists to work with patients who aren’t necessarily in the immediate area of the therapist. This can expand their reach to many hard to reach areas and help to stabilize their client base even in times of social distancing.
8. Decrease Your Overhead
Expenses such as rent, utilities, liability insurance, office supplies and furniture, along with other typical business costs can be enough to overwhelm anyone. Most offices will look to maintain in-person services and use telehealth as a supplement, but even with this strategy it can be possible to cut costs. If teletherapy is built into the regular schedule in a predictable manner that may mean that the same number of therapists now needs a much smaller space that is organized differently. While there can be a very significant expense reduction from going to a full-time telehealth model, this is not going to be viable or even desirable for many. Mindful therapy clinics will make sure that they have a road map for how they are integrating telehealth with regular services, look at how they can help to use it to cut costs for their physical location, as well as ensuring they are prepared to give effective teletherapy.
9. Enhance Your Well-being
Have you heard of “sick building syndrome“? It is actually a very real occurrence that can have a detrimental impact. Sick building syndrome is a term used to describe the situation when occupants of a building experience nonspecific symptoms of illness including headaches, nausea, fatigue, and a general feeling of sickness. This syndrome leads to calling out of work and a decrease in productivity and morale. Sick building syndrome could occur for any number of reasons: environmental toxins in the building, bad quality of air, not having a window that opens or not having windows at all. Fortunately, teletherapy is an opportunity to work from home where you can feel comfortable and have much more control over your environment resulting in better well-being.
10. Decrease Your Risk of Illness
Having to go into an office every day and work closely with many different patients can put an OT at much higher risk for getting sick, whether it be from COVID-19 or from the cold or regular flu. Not only does having a teletherapy practice protect you from illness, but also your patients. The best option for decreasing your risk of illness is to limit exposure and when you can work from your home and hold virtual sessions for your patients this is possible.
11. Unique Opportunities for Special Situations
Life is full of unexpected situations and surprises. Teletherapy is a flexible model that can work around these unique scenarios instead of impeding on them. For example, if an OT becomes pregnant, she still has the opportunity to continue working with her patients from the safety of her home where she has access to necessary breaks and time to rest, both of which can be challenging to do in an office setting. Teletherapy can also be a good fit for those who are semi-retired or have physical limitations, but still want to continue serving patients. A part-time OT can find much more sovereignty with a telehealth practice and a new mother transitioning back into the workforce will find this option can be more flexible and less demanding when it is structured appropriately.
12. Improve Communication With Patients
Technology has the ability to streamline processes within an OT’s business and with online scheduling and billing systems there is much less of a chance for miscommunication with your patients. The use of virtual systems can help to eliminate the need for some routine office tasks such as scheduling and billing. With a telehealth practice, communication, such as appointment reminders, can be sent out to patients in real-time and automatically. Messages can quickly and easily be exchanged directly from the OT to the patient, without needing a middle-man or ample time to take phone calls. Reducing the number of communication channels helps to keep everything clear and all parties on the same page and by having all information in writing there is little room for confusion.
13. Increase Your Own Anonymity
Keeping work separate from the rest of your life can be important to many people. As an OT you might not want to constantly be running into patients at the grocery store or when you’re out to eat. Many patients prefer to avoid this as well. When you have a telehealth practice you are often working with patients who live across your state so there is much less of a chance that you will run into them during your personal time. By increasing your anonymity not only do you maintain a healthy work-life balance, but you create a much more comfortable environment for your patients when they also don’t have to worry about awkward public run-ins.
14. Enjoy the Comforts of Your Home
Having access to your own facilities, food, and other comforts throughout the day can be highly beneficial. You are less likely to go out to lunch and binge on vending machine snacks throughout the day resulting in a healthier diet. Working from your home means having the freedom to take a power nap, fit in a quick workout, take stretch/yoga breaks, listen to your favorite music, open a window, or go for a walk to get fresh air. When you are comfortable, your work performance improves and pesky distractions of discomfort are eliminated. As long as appointments are kept and productivity is maintained or increased then it will be hard to make an argument against having more flexibility. However, make sure to find the ways that you work best at home, can stay on task, and make sure that you show up to all appointments promptly and properly prepared.
15. Expand Your Reach
When offering virtual services as an OT it is possible to reach new people. Patients with disabilities, financial challenges, and transportation difficulties are just a few examples of people that are possible to serve through telehealth that would not have been possible before. It will also be possible to serve people in other cities, making location less relevant. Telehealth gives OTs the opportunity to serve more people while making more money. It’s a win, win.
16. Maximize Your Time With Your Patients
Ultimately, teletherapy helps to simplify the patient-OT relationship and the entire process of offering sessions. When obstacles are eliminated, such as having to physically make it to an appointment, this frees up more time and energy for you and your patients to focus on their progress.
Teletherapy can be used to cut out any unnecessary distractions and hassles so you can focus on the most important aspect of your practice: your patients. With flexibility and freedom, telehealth allows you to prioritize your own health and well-being, which creates a positive ripple effect in all areas of your life, professionally and personally.
Ensure that your Clients Believe in Telehealth- Telepractice Certification
Now is the time to take advantage of the benefits of technology in order to keep up with innovation. Be proactive and stay ahead of the curve.
If OTs are able to practice across state lines with telehealth that would significantly increase competition all across the country instantly. Telepractice certification can show your clients and prospective new clients that you take telehealth seriously.
This helps them to relax knowing that their therapist knows how to effectively apply therapy techniques in a virtual environment to get the same results they would get for in-person therapy. As many other OTs have found, the combination of third-party certification and verification with proper preparation and execution will go a long way in stakeholder buy-in.
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