From ultrasound to dry needling, there are many techniques a physical therapist uses to help their patients recover. None, though, are more essential than the use of their own two hands, something that has become complicated in these days of social distancing.
Undeterred, local practices VASTA Performance Training and Physical Therapy and Dee Physical Therapy have blazed new ground using telemedicine. Their virtual “hands-on” treatment just might influence treatment options for years to come.
“The ease of access is a huge upside,” said Jeff Albertson, who owns VASTA with Eric Corey. “Telemedicine has the potential, for many, to reduce the burden of making that decision to at least get an initial consultation.”
Before the pandemic, Albertson said insurance companies did not cover telemedicine services. VASTA now provides a range of services via telemedicine from evaluations and visits to single or group training.
Education is key to making it work.
“Giving patients a clear understanding of what is going on, what is causing their pain and what they should be doing differently to facilitate a recovery,” Albertson said.
A knee injury brought Mollie Gribbin, to VASTA.
Gribbin competed in track and field at South Burlington High School and at college. She currently competes for Ireland. With the 2020 season cancelled, Gribbin is training for the Irish Indoor Track and Field Nationals at the end of February with the 2021 Summer Olympics as her ultimate goal.
“Neil and Jeff were able to diagnose my torn ACL right away and discuss options moving forward. I went to VASTA for the next six weeks while Neil helped me get strong and ready for surgery,” said Gribbin.
Gribbin was going to VASTA twice weekly until the pandemic struck. For many athletes in training or recovery, this was when telemedicine became instrumental.
“I was surprised at how good of a workout I got over the computer,” she said.
After seeing positive outcomes – and surprised patients, Albertson said, “I cannot overstate how surprisingly well this has gone for folks.”
A PT practice with three locations
Dee Physical Therapy stopped seeing clients at their Hinesburg, Shelburne and South Burlington offices on March 19. The next day, they began telehealth visits.
“We had an introduction to telemedicine through the state Medicaid organization in the fall,” said co-owner Mike Dee. “We did not use it until this pandemic.”
Since then, Dee PT has provided virtual evaluations and physical therapy treatment sessions.
“Listening to our clients is a good deal of the process and always with a unique response to that client,” Dee said. “Clients have been very engaged and appreciative.”
Dee Clinical Coordinator Courtney Kaup said telemedicine has required new technology, treatment styles and testing modifications.
“The patients that I have treated and evaluated during this unique time will always be remembered. There is a special bond of navigating new technology together,” she said.
Danielle Robillard D’Amico of Charlotte has had three telemedicine appointments so far, watching as an exercise is demonstrated on-screen then watching a video to see how to do it properly.
“My shoulder pain has improved significantly in the few times we have met. I have been pleasantly surprised how well telemedicine has worked,” he said.
Telehealth has also given an opportunity to get families involved make sure at-home workspaces are set up in a healthy way.
“There are also the very unique moments of realizing that you are one of the few outside contacts for some of the patients, especially the older population and how important social interaction is to health and wellbeing and safety,” physical therapist Matthew Odachowski said.
Looking ahead – virtually
For Corey and Albertson, VASTA will continue to provide telemedicine physical therapy visits into the future.
Albertson said, “There’s really no good reason not to. Now that we’re all seeing how well it works, now that we can appreciate how helpful this can be to allow us to be of-service to our patients, there should be no going back.”
Dee agreed, saying telemedicine has a permanent spot in his tool kit.
“This has definitely made us stronger, better as a company and as providers. I would take on any challenge that comes my way with this fine group of people I work with,” he said.