What Happens in a Digital Physiotherapy Session?

By Amy Gillespie, Physiotherapist

For most of us out there, the idea of telehealth or digital physiotherapy is a very new idea.  I must admit, even for myself as a physio when I heard of digital physiotherapy, I wasn’t sure how it would work.  Telehealth has been thrown into the mainstream due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has meant that all physiotherapy clinics in New Zealand are closed currently.  Both doctors and other health practitioners such as physiotherapists have been advised to use telehealth where appropriate to treat patients.  We know from the evidence that this is an effective way of treating and that most patients experience a higher satisfaction rating with the treatment, but it is still a very new and ‘out-there’ idea for people to wrap their head around. 

So, if you have decided that this telehealth thing might be helpful for you and your injury or condition you may have one big question…but how does it actually work??? I mean, we are all fairly familiar with how a normal consultation works, you head into the clinic, fill in a few forms, wait a few minutes (hopefully only a few!) and then go in to the consultation room, where your physiotherapist asks a barrage of questions, does a physical assessment on you, forms a diagnosis and then undertakes some treatment (usually some hands on or manual therapy and some exercises to head away with as well as lots of useful advice and reassurance)…but how does that then transfer to the digital setting?  Digital physiotherapy compared to face-to-face physiotherapy in essence, it is quite similar.  We still do the thorough assessment to come up with a diagnosis and then undertake treatment minus the hands on (although we can teach you some hands-on techniques to try).  With the digital model however, we are able to harness technology to make things a lot more seamless for the patient. 

Once you start your consultation, there are two assessment forms to complete and we use conversational-style forms that are individualised depending on how you answer the questions.  So, that means you don’t have to answer questions that aren’t relevant to you and your injury.  The subjective form, is all about your injury or condition and is much like the start of a face-to-face physiotherapy session where you will sit down and answer questions from the physiotherapist or tell your story about your injury.  The subjective assessment gives us the most vital information about your injury and potential diagnosis.  After the subjective assessment, we might have some further questions, so if this is the case we will email back and forth until the physiotherapist has all the information they need.  The second assessment form is the objective assessment, this is used to help give us some baseline information about how well you are able to move and function before we have a video call.  This helps to further confirm diagnosis and get a gauge on your functional status.  Once this is undertaken you are given a link to our online booking calendar to book in a time for your video call. 

When we undertake the video consultation we use a secure platform and this will be a one-on-one call which lasts 30 minutes on average.  We use this time to discuss the results of your assessments and then formulate a treatment plan.  The treatment plan will generally involve exercise based rehabilitation as well as education about your injury/recovery and self-management advice (things that you can do to help with your condition).  Once we have completed the video consultation, we will send through a management plan.  This document highlights what we have talked about in the vide consultation, outlining the diagnosis, recovery timeframes and treatment.  We use an app called PhysiApp that gives you access to your exercise programme, with the ability to watch videos of these exercises, so that you know you are performing them correctly.  It is also from within PhysiApp that we are able to then continue to converse securely back in forth quickly, much like you would with SMS, so any questions you have you are encouraged to ask them regularly.  We are able to progress your exercise programme as required during your access period.  Once we come to the end of your access period, if necessary there is the option to extend this, or if you are back to where you want to be, we will discuss what exercises might be helpful to continue on with to help decrease the chance on any recurrences in the future.

The online physiotherapy process is really seamless and fits around your life, such as kids or work schedules.  Any questions, feel free to get in touch with me at amy@thedigital.physio.

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