The Role of Virtual Physiotherapy During the COVID-19 Pandemic
By Farhana Jaffer, Physiotherapist
Self-quarantine and social isolation presented some real challenges on how I could help my existing clients who needed therepy. It also posed assessment challenges for new clients who had just been referred.
The Ontario government has directed physiotherapists to see only urgent clients in person – those who need physiotherapy in order to avoid hospitalization or re-hospitalization. The government directed that in non-urgent situations physiotherapists may use virtual care.
I had just received a new referral for a client who had recently fractured his leg, and whose surgeon had directed immediate therapy. This was a real challenge for me, since assessment and delivery of therapy over a virtual environment didn’t initially seem viable.
Before Covid-19, “virtual physiotherapy” or “telerehab” was unknown to me. It was something I had never tried before or had any experience with. Still, given the needs of my patients I had to ramp up quickly.
With some creativity, telerehab worked out well. I was able to remotely assess the new client with the help of his PSW. From this assessment, I was able to identify critical range of motion restrictions and muscle weaknesses that needed to be corrected as soon as possible.
I developed a proper exercise program and his strength and walking are now improving.
The restriction of not being in person is not as severe as I had initially feared. I am able to provide education on pain, movement, posture, sleeping position and much more. I can develop and progress effective exercise programs.
The Canadian Physiotherapy Association has come together to provide support and education for physiotherapists who are starting to work in this virtual world. Through their webinars I’ve learned that there is literature on virtual physiotherapy dating back as far as 10 years including randomized control trials and systematic reviews.There are studies in both neurological and orthopaedic populations, and they show that in many cases, telerehab can be as effective as in person therapy.
There are definitely challenges – some of my clients were initially skeptical, but most have come around.
The main challenge has been to teach my clients to use the technology, especially the older population.
While I look forward to seeing my client’s face-to-face again, I am happy to learn that telerehab for physiotherapy is not only a viable, but actually a very good alternative.