The Ebb & Flow of Demand for Rehab During Covid-19
At the start of Covid-19 lockdowns in the U.S., most outpatient practices saw a significant decline in patient caseloads as patients cancelled appointments to avoid potential exposure to the novel coronavirus. (1)
Although rehab providers were classified as essential workers in most states,(2) many practices simply had to close their doors due to insufficient volume. (3)
However, as the initial stay-at-home orders began to lift, the demand for therapy began to surge again.
Occupational therapists who had been restricted to treating “urgent cases only” during the height of lockdown were suddenly bombarded by a backlog of “non-urgent” pediatric and geriatric patients. (4) As elective surgeries resumed and surgeons hurried to catch up on postponed procedures, the need for post-operative rehab increased. (5)
Perhaps most significantly, physical therapists began seeing more cases of patients suffering from the impacts of prolonged sitting and poor ergonomics in their hastily constructed home work stations. (6)
A study published by London’s Royal Society for Public Health found that more than a quarter of people working from home during the pandemic were working from a bedroom or sofa, and nearly half of these people had developed a musculoskeletal complaint of some kind—such as neck and back pain or cervicogenic headaches—as a result. (7,8)
How Rehab Providers and Therapists Can Ride the WFH Wave
More people are working from home than ever before, and many employers will likely permit their employees to continue remote work indefinitely, even after pandemic restrictions are fully lifted. (9)
As a result, PTs and OTs will continue to see increasing numbers of patients with dysfunction related to poor home office ergonomics and the longer work hours to which many remote workers fall prey. (10)
This new paradigm offers savvy practitioners an opportunity to explore avenues to expand their offerings and target new patient populations. Let’s explore a couple of options.
Post-Pandemic Opportunities: In-Home Ergonomic Evaluations
As professionals who think about body positioning and optimal alignment all day, it can be easy for PTs and OTs to forget that the vast majority of the population has no clue what’s right or wrong when it comes to ergonomics.
As a result, home office evaluations have the potential to become a high-demand and high revenue item for rehab providers.
Providers may choose to offer these assessments as home visits to provide detailed suggestions for an overhaul of the patient’s work space. Alternatively, ergonomic assessment can be performed remotely, provided the client has sufficient video conferencing capacity.
This brings us to another timely innovation: Telehealth rehab.
Post-Pandemic Opportunities: Telehealth Visits
During the height of Covid-19 lockdowns, insurance carriers across the country, including Medicare, issued temporary permissions for rehab providers to bill for care provided via telehealth, a service which was rarely covered prior to the pandemic. (11)
While many therapists and patients alike were skeptical of the efficacy of telemedicine in the rehab setting, most were pleasantly surprised by the outcomes they could achieve remotely.
A survey of more than 1,000 patients who received outpatient physical therapy between January and May 2020 found no differences in patient satisfaction between those that received in-person care and those that were treated via telehealth. (12)
Patients receiving telehealth services were more satisfied with the ease of scheduling their appointments, and they were able to achieve their treatment goals at rate nearly equivalent to those receiving in-person care. (13)
These data suggest that telehealth rehabilitation is a viable and valuable option for many patients seeking rehabilitation services. Some health plans have seen the benefits and have agreed to continue covering telehealth rehabilitation even after all pandemic restrictions are lifted. (14)
Additionally, telehealth can increase access to care for many patient populations – consider the benefit to the following groups:
- Overwhelmed new parents who struggle to find childcare
- Busy professionals with demanding jobs and multiple kids
- Older adults who rely on others for transportation to appointments
- People living in remote rural areas, miles from the nearest clinic
(Incidentally, if you are planning to continue offering telehealth services at your clinic in the post-pandemic world, the AC Health app is the perfect partner to foster your relationship you’re your remote clients. Your personalized exercise videos will allow these patients to hear your voice and watch you demonstrate your prescription for them, and this exposure can help them build a closer connection to you as their provider.)
Dive In: How to Start Helping Remote WFH Employees Today
While establishing an ergonomic assessment plan or setting up your practice to accommodate telehealth may be longer term projects, there are plenty of smaller scale services you can start offering your patients almost immediately.
Here are a few ideas to get the wheels turning:
- Offer low-cost or free clinics on the basics of office ergonomics and correct postural positioning.
- This is a great way to increase your practice’s visibility in the community, and it may function as an effective marketing tool to convert clients interested in a personalized ergonomic assessment. Bonus points if you stream the session for remote viewing – we are living in the golden age of Zoom, after all!
- Reach out to local businesses that employ remote workers and offer to host educational sessions for employees, emphasizing ways to prevent musculoskeletal pain while working from home. Include some education on how PT/OT can help prevent and treat these issues.
- This is another change to increase exposure in your community and generate new clients who have already developed complaints.
- Build a library of educational videos on the AC Health app: include recommendations for posture correction and some basic exercises that desk workers can do to relieve back or neck pain after hours of sitting.
However you choose to intervene with the WFH population, rest assured that you will be improving quality of life for a large subset of patients. With any luck, you’ll also be laying the foundation for a loyal and enthusiastic client base for years to come!