Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth has become more widely used across healthcare and now some are asking if it can produce the same results as in-person physical therapy.
A new study by Intermountain Healthcare recently published in the Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine shows patients who received much of their physical therapy using telehealth reported the same high-quality outcomes compared to those who only did in-person physical therapy.
The research also discovered a cost savings for patients who used telehealth.
“We conducted this research pre-COVID-19 and when telehealth became more widely utilized, many had questions if it would be as effective,” said James Wylie, MD, orthopedic surgeon at Intermountain Healthcare and principal investigator of the study. “The results highlighted the essence of value-based care, bringing the same health outcomes for less money.”
The study was conducted with 51 patients between 2013 and 2019 who underwent hip arthroscopy for femoroacetabular impingement (FAI), which is abnormal wearing between the ball and socket of the hip joint due to shape abnormalities in young patients.
All the participants had similar ages, gender, and arthroscopic procedures. They were split into three groups of 17, and doctors measured their progress.
Outcomes were also measured using a patient self-reporting tool that asks patients about their ability to do certain activities and pain scores.
The first group did most of their physical therapy visits using telehealth but were required to have at least two in-person visits at two weeks and three months post-surgery. This groups’ average was 3.7 in-person visits during the study.
The second group used the same physical therapists as group one but did only in-person PT for six to seven sessions. Group three did all in-person physical therapy with a different set of physical therapists.
Researchers then investigated what the billed costs were for all three groups over the three months of therapy and recovery:
- Group 1 Mostly Telehealth Physical Therapy: $1,015.67
- Group 2 Only In-Person Physical Therapy: $1,555.62
- Group 3 In-Person Physical Therapy (different physical therapists): $1,896.38
Jenny Marland, a physical therapist at Intermountain Healthcare and co-author of the study, says there are several factors that could have raised the costs of in-person appointments versus telehealth visits.
“In person therapy vistits are likely to include billable procedures beyond exercise and patient education which increases the total cost,” Marland said.
Dr. Wylie says this study shows those costs can be further reduced using telehealth, and more importantly, it shows patients who may not have access to a physical therapist close to home can still receive the high-quality therapy and care they need.
“We work with patients who live in remote areas where access to physical therapy is limited and miles from their home,” said Marland. “This is a promising step in making sure people can get high quality care no matter where they live.”
This was a pilot study with a small number of participants. Dr. Wylie says he is looking forward to additional research looking at an all-telehealth model with no in-person visits and larger groups to see if the results are the same. He notes what they’ve seen so far is promising for the future of patient care.
To see the full published study, click here.
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