When complications due to Covid-19 imposed restrictions on the movement of people to protect their health & that of others, technology emerged as the natural alternative. In the healthcare sector, occupational therapy found it hard to operate under these restrictions due to the nature of its services. Yet, a telehealth occupational therapy guide will help both practitioners & patients deal with these unprecedented times.
What is telehealth?
Telehealth comprises health services provided to patients using technology. The communication or technology employed in telehealth services can include consultation over the phone or email, video conferencing, & digital photography. Doctors & consultants may also communicate via texting & instant messaging.
Telehealth is also known as teletherapy. These services were initially there to help patients in remote places or where patients were short on time to reach the hospital.
The U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services initiated Coverage to Care (C2C), which releases new resources to support patients & providers to make the most of virtual care.
Extending Occupational Therapy to Telehealth Services:
Occupational therapy is a health care profession that extends therapeutic help to the emotional, social, & physical needs of a patient. Patients of all ages facing difficulty with their daily tasks due to physical or emotional disorientation can avail of occupational therapy.
Occupational therapy usually requires in-person services, whereas many patients may also consider the option of combining in-person & teletherapy. Due to the convenience & improved access to telehealth services, more & more people are opting for a telehealth occupational therapist.
Both the occupational therapy practitioner & the patient need a telehealth occupational therapy guide to impose rules & regulations in these changing times. Telehealth provides new avenues for occupational therapists to expand the base of their existing clients. According to the latest survey of telehealth statistics in post-pandemic times, live video services appear to offer advantages over audio-only & in-person services, especially to young adults and financially sound & insured people. These therapists can utilize new clients who prefer on-demand & virtual care from their therapist.
Telehealth Occupational Therapy Guide:
The telehealth occupational therapy guide guides occupational therapists dealing with telehealth patients. This guide takes utmost care in describing the professional boundaries, terms of privacy, & risk management & other parts of the healthcare structure. The guideline begins with the definition of telehealth services and their scope in occupational therapy. Whereas the practice of telehealth occupational therapy revolves around:
- Appropriate Telehealth Practice:
The first step in teletherapy deals with the questions of if & how telehealth will be beneficial to the patient. The second step will include knowing whether the patient can access teletherapy via their choice of technology.
Teletherapy practice includes the availability & knowledge of the internet possessed by the patient to interact with their therapist in real-time.
The suggestions provided by the Health & Human Services on telehealth services prepare both the practitioner & the patient for their virtual visit with separate guidelines. The motive is to get the patient comfortable & empower them with enough knowledge & confidence in the therapy they will receive. The therapist obtains a checklist to follow before their appointment.
- Administration of Therapy:
Except for a few states such as Alabama, Arizona & so on, every state in the United States provides its state statutes, regulations & regulatory board statements. Each state’s regulations & board statement include a precise definition of various terminologies necessary during therapy administration.
Therapists associated with telehealth occupational therapy services should be registered with National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) & needed to hold a current practicing certificate.
- Privacy of the Practitioner & the Patient:
Privacy rights of the practitioner & the patient are of utmost importance when considering sharing crucial information from both sides on a virtual medium. Privacy foremost includes seeking informed consent from the patient before the start of the consultation session.
Seeking documented consent online is similar to signing a consent document before the consultation appointment. Consent documents need confirmation regarding receiving telehealth services, & retain audio or video footage & written notes on the session by the therapist.
Authorities can allow verbal consent only in case of emergencies. Whereas as per the telehealth occupational therapy guide, it is mandatory to receive a signed & documented consent form from the patient.
- Tech Preference:
It is crucial for the patient & their therapist to choose their preferred form of technology before continuing with their therapy sessions. As repeatedly changing the medium of communication can hamper the session. Patients may need to inform about the internet access & speed/ bandwidth of the internet & the devices which are available to use.
The clients will need to inform about their preferred teletherapy platforms. The therapist will provide the instructions for use & the troubleshooting arrangements.
The service provider needs to notify the service user beforehand about the costs of the services & any extra costs that may incur in case of non-reliance on the telehealth occupational therapy guide & also on the payment arrangements.
Both will need to come up with the available alternatives in advance. The therapist may use the occupational therapy virtual classroom template by Google Classroom for their virtual therapy room.
Documenting every step of the therapy session has as much significance as obtaining consent & briefing the patient on the guidelines of teletherapy. Clinical & health records of the patient keep the documents of all the interactions between the authorities & the patient.
It is the job of the authorities to download & store the communications over text messages & email regarding teletherapy. The health record will include the audio & video clips or footage obtained during sessions with the session & clinical notes. Under emergencies, when it is challenging to receive written consent, the therapist should have documents with a replica of verbal consent.
- Professional boundaries:
It is not only the responsibility of the authorities & the therapist but of the patient also to maintain professional boundaries before, during, & after the teletherapy sessions.
Separating personal & professional lives is of equal importance when it comes to creating professional boundaries. It is advisable for the therapist in the telehealth occupational therapy guide to maintain a separate social media account for their healthcare profession. Therapists should not share the personal details of a case without asking permission to post about it first.
Authorities can also use separate work phone numbers & email addresses to eliminate confusion. It is firmly advised not to store the crucial case documents, notes, audio, & video clips from the session on their electronic devices.
- Risk management:
The authorities & therapists should prepare a manual & regulations to deal with a contingent event. Also need policies to refer to from time to time to terminate any eventuality before it may happen. & in case of an incident or an emergency, a manual regarding the procedure must be in place.
It is the responsibility of the healthcare organization or the therapist to make their patients aware of these contingency procedures & regulations along with their privacy consent & any contract & insurance that might be applicable.
- Contracts and insurance:
Both the practitioner & the patient should be aware of the telehealth policies, rules & regulations, & requirements of the therapy session before the consultation therapy. The therapist needs to be familiar with their contract with their employer in case they are working for an organization. In the case of private practice, the therapist needs to have one with the client mentioning every stage, information, & detail of the procedure. Both parties need to be aware & accommodating of any contract & insurance involved in the healthcare plan.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):
Within the purview of the telehealth occupational therapy guide, these are some of the frequently asked questions with their answers:
- What is telehealth occupational therapy?
The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA, 2018) defines telehealth occupational therapy as practicing evaluation, intervention, consultation, supervision, & remote monitoring of the health of a patient by occupational therapy practitioners by virtual or digital means.
- What are some benefits of telehealth occupational therapy?
Here are some benefits of telehealth occupational therapy:
- You can avail therapy from any location. This flexibility in the environment allows occupational therapists to work from their home offices.
- Both parties can eliminate commuting time & hassles that come with it. Traffic & long commute times can make the situation worse for a patient.
- Telehealth services usually provide a flexible schedule& an easier appointment cancellation & rebooking solution. A therapist can also accommodate several appointment times in their day.
- Can you name a few Teletherapy Platforms for Occupational Therapy?
Occupational therapists can see their patients via these most common platforms:
- Global Teletherapy: It is an online occupational therapy platform that provides speech, mental, & physical therapy to school kids.
- Zoom for Healthcare: this platform provides a secure & scalable environment for doctors & patients. It also holds the option of mobile telehealth carts & virtual factory inspections.
- Google Classroom: you can use their occupational therapy virtual classroom template in your virtual therapy room.
Telehealth occupational therapy expands the reach of a therapist to remote areas & stabilizes their patient base with the option of flexible scheduling. A telehealth occupational therapy guide provides structure to the therapy service. It gives a discourse to discuss the appropriateness of a practice which can ultimately lead to better patient outcomes. Hence, making it easier to maintain a better doctor-patient relationship.