Seeing my Patient’s Faces Again – The Value of Telehealth

I am a musculoskeletal, women’s health and paediatric pelvic health physiotherapist. I spend a lot of time educating my patients. But, I also spend a lot of time touching my patients – manual therapy has been a big part of my practice. The idea of telehealth has always intrigued me. There is a vast shortage of women’s health and particularly paediatric pelvic health physiotherapists in South Africa, and patients often travel from far to come and see my colleagues or me. In South Africa, telehealth has never been well supported by our health professions council. There were quite a lot of hoops to jump through to treat a patient via telehealth. Covid-19 has brought about so many changes and, while most of the changes have been hard to adjust to, some of them have forced us to rethink how we practice. 

I have purposefully steered away from telehealth during this pandemic. I was already so overwhelmed with all the changes to life, I thought let me not implement any more changes. Plus, can I really treat someone effectively without actually touching them? At the same time, I have been complaining to everyone who wants to listen about wearing masks! Masks are essential in preventing the transmission of Covid-19. However, I am struggling to connect with my patients from a communication point of view whilst wearing a mask. It is so difficult to pick up on non-verbal cues when you can’t see someone’s face! My biggest passion in physiotherapy is communication, and the non-verbal cues during the interview are crucial in guiding your interview structure and management plan. This is even more so when you are seeing chronic pain patients, women’s health patients and children struggling with bedwetting or daytime accidents. I didn’t realise how important the non-verbal cues and facial expression were until they were taken away from me.

The universe intervened in my little block against telehealth. Firstly, the new telerehab platform was released on physioplus. My curiosity got the better of me, and I played around with it and started to see how, with the help of good software, a telehealth session may work. Secondly, a good friend of mine, who lives very far away, was struggling with her 9-year-old child wetting the bed every night. She lives in a small town, and there was no help available to her, and with travel restrictions in place, there’s no way she could travel to get the help they needed. I decided to take the plunge and made my first telehealth appointment.

I quickly watched the Physioplus courses on telehealth, which was so helpful to show me how to get started. The telerehab platform on the PhysioPlus site is so user-friendly I had no issues setting up the appointment and emailing the meeting to the patient. I like that you schedule the appointment with specific times and it automatically sends everything to the patient (even a reminder just before the appointment). The whole process of booking it in took me less than 2 minutes. When it was time for the appointment, logging on was easy, and everything worked perfectly. That was until a hail storm hit and disrupted our internet connectivity. Luckily this was right at the end of the session when we were chatting, so we did manage to get everything done. Other than an act of God, the entire process worked so smoothly. I like the platform because it shows the videos of you and the patient side to side instead of other platforms where it swaps between speakers. You can also screen share if you want to share resources or educational information with them. 

The thing I loved most was I got to see their faces. I haven’t seen a patient’s face in 3 months! It made a world of difference. The appointment itself went well. I managed to give a comprehensive management program and my patient was grateful for the opportunity to access treatment that she would never have been able to get otherwise. 

Physiotherapy has really moved towards active rather than passive management. Teaching a patient how to self-manage is truly providing high-value care. Physios are amazing educators and have so much to give. I love my manual therapy and will always value the power of touch. However, we are not only manual therapists. We need to realise that the education, advice, exercise prescription, functional rehabilitation and whatever else we give as self-management strategies to our patients doesn’t have to be given face to face. Yes, there are always circumstances where patients need to be seen in person. For now, while we have to have prolonged periods of self-isolation, I am going to enjoy seeing my patients’ faces again. And I will appreciate the fact that even though we can’t see each other in person, I can still help them to manage their problems.

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Physioplus truly is the gold standard for integration of all of your continuing education, professional development and telehealth needs for your organisation. It is setting the benchmark for what is possible in the physiotherapy IT space and you will not want to miss out on the opportunity to transform your practice. Try the free 2 week trial account now, after all who wouldn’t want to be a Physioplus PRO?

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