Results from a Phase 2 study conducted by Focus on Therapeutic Outcomes (FOTO), a Net Health company, provide key insights for payors and providers about the use of telerehabilitation services during COVID-19.

The findings, published in the American Physical Therapy Association’s (APTA) Physical Therapy Journal, are based on a recent national FOTO data set of 222,680 patient records and provide demographic and medical details on how and to whom therapists provided telerehabilitation treatment during the coronavirus pandemic.

The peer-reviewed journal publication in a series of FOTO’s telehealth research efforts aims to strengthen the case for the continued acceptance of telerehabilitation by rehab therapists, consumers, healthcare plan sponsors and payors. It also aims to set the stage for future effectiveness studies on telerehabilitation care and patient outcomes compared to traditional in-person clinic visits.

FOTO has provided outcomes management software for rehabilitation therapists since 1994. The FOTO database used for the study encompasses some 24,000 providers, 12,700 clinics and 36 million patient assessments.

“Telerehabilitation has rapidly emerged as an alternative care model to traditional in-person office visits over the past year as a result of COVID-19. In the current study, we aimed to establish descriptive results, using large sample sizes and rigorous analytic methods, to provide detailed and robust information on the ‘who’ and ‘how’ of telerehabilitation. We examined and described patient types more likely to use telerehabilitation, the frequency of use, and the kinds of telecommunication technology employed.”

— Mark W. Werneke, PT, MS, Dip. MDT, lead author of the study article and a clinical research scientist on the FOTO team

About the Study

The sample analyzed for the study took place between the second and third quarters of 2020. A descriptive retrospective observational design was conducted to examine patient variables and outcomes, including physical function, number of visits, and patient satisfaction, by telerehabilitation frequency (few, most or all visits) and telecommunication modes.

The outcomes described were physical function change, number of treatment visits during the episode of care from intake to discharge, and patient satisfaction with treatment results at discharge.

Key Findings 

The study results provide new knowledge about how and to whom telerehabilitation is being used during the pandemic in outpatient rehabilitation practices throughout the USA.  Major findings include:

  • Six percent (6%) (n=13,059) of episodes of care in the sample incorporated some level of telerehabilitation. Of those episodes receiving telerehabilitation, 75% of cases used telerehabilitation in addition to in-person office visits, compared to 25% of cases in which only telerehabilitation treatment was used.
  • Approximately 37% of the 13,240 therapists involved in the sample used telerehabilitation.
  • Telerehabilitation was more likely to be used during the second quarter of 2020 (10%) compared to the third quarter of 2020 (5%), a finding the authors speculate may be partially due to loosening of mandatory COVID-19 restrictions later in the year.
  • Patients treated using telerehabilitation compared to in-person care were more likely to be younger, exercise more, have lower medical comorbidities and live in large metropolitan areas.

Broader Research Implications

“These were fascinating and important findings for our industry, especially rehabilitation providers and payors. The descriptive research findings support the appropriateness of the FOTO database to contribute future studies on associations between telerehabilitation care and patient outcomes.

“The researchers’ finding of limited and decreasing use of telerehabilitation over the study period suggests additional studies are needed to better understand facilitators and inhibitors of telerehabilitation use by therapists during everyday practice to promote its use when clinically appropriate.”

— Mark W. Werneke, PT, MS, Dip. MDT

[Source: Net Health Systems Inc]